All this salt paranoia seems a little silly to me. "Oh," people say, "you shouldn't drink V8! It's so high in salt." Or "How can you drink Perrier?"
I don't think anybody ever had a heart attack from drinking too much mineral water or vegetable juice. And for the record, nobody I interviewed for this column even mentioned these two items.
Still, there are plenty of warnings out there about the amount of salt we get from processed and restaurant foods.
In April, a new study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that when people with pre-hypertension cut back on their salt intake, they lower their risk of developing heart disease by 25 per cent.
We are, some say, consuming way more table salt (sodium chloride) than we realize. But others say the warnings are way out of whack.
What the experts say
"Around 1900 we had an average sodium intake of 200 mg a day, and now we have an average intake of 5,000 mg. Sodium has to work with potassium and magnesium, and while our salt intake has increased, our potassium and magnesium intake has gone down. The increase is mostly due to processed foods, but if you eat a diet low in processed foods and high in fruits and vegetables, your salt level is probably fine. Your potassium and magnesium are probably fine as well, and you can add table salt to foods."
AILEEN BURFORD MASON, immunologist and nutritional consultant, Toronto
"In Canada, 25 per cent of people have hypertension, and one in three would not have it if his or her sodium intake were lower. Processors and restaurants are responsible for 80 per cent of our salt intake. We add 10 per cent ourselves, and 10 per cent occurs naturally in food. If we asked restaurants to cut the amount , we'd see a dramatic improvement. Hypertension causes two-thirds of strokes, one-half of all cases of heart failure and one-quarter of all cases of kidney failure and heart attack. Hypertension is one of the major drivers of dementia. There are more effective ways of reducing hypertension than reducing salt, like increasing physical activity, losing weight, getting enough soluble fibre and eating low-fat dairy products."
NORMAN CAMPBELL, professor of medicine, Libin Cardiovascular Institute, University of Calgary
"We know salt is associated with blood pressure, so we concluded that anything we could do to reduce blood pressure would achieve the same risk profile of lower-risk populations, but that hasn't turned out to be true. Some studies even suggest that there may be an increased risk for cardiovascular disease with a reduced salt diet, since it increases insulin resistance and can affect plasma renin activity. Until 12 years ago, we did not look at the net effects [of reducing salt] and only looked at blood pressure. Even then, about a third of the population responded [positively] to salt restriction. What we need is a five-year controlled intervention trial."
RICHARD L. HANNEMAN, president, Salt Institute, Alexandria, Virginia
"Salt is one of those essential elements we need in moderation. There are people who are salt-sensitive. Your intake should depend on your sensitivity level. Salt helps stimulate the kidneys, helps promote fluid metabolism and has a moistening effect. A little bit [taken internally] is good if your skin is very dry. It also has a mild detoxifying effect. In Chinese medicine it is also known as a s oftener for hardened lymph nodes, glands or muscles. It gently promotes bowel regularity. Most importantly, it needs to be kept in balance with potassium. Aside from causing hypertension, too much salt can interfere with calcium absorption and lead to poor bone health. If you have PMS and bloating, it's important to reduce your salt intake as well."
DU LA, naturopath, Toronto