Does Salt Impact Cardiovascular Disease?

June 7, 2012

Probably not in the way you’ve been told! Although it’s been an outcry for decades that Americans have too much salt in their diets, the evidence all points to low salt diets not improving cardiovascular disease, and in fact potentially making it worse.

One of the problems is that a “high salt diet”, as measured by the studies saying salt is bad for you, is also a part of a high processed sugar diet, the obesity epidemic, and any number of bad eating and exercising habits that could contribute to cardiovascular disease. When salt is isolated, it appears that there is a very real chemical reaction in our kidneys that negatively impacts cardiovascular health if we don’t have enough salt!

Salt is a necessary part of many processes, helping you to absorb water (on a hot day, adding a fingertip of salt to a glass of water can help replace lost fluids in lieu of sugary sports drinks) as well as regulating many bodily functions…including those of your heart! And despite low-salt warning, salt consumption has been pretty consistent over the years.

Unless you are eating a diet that is full of processed foods,chances are your body is doing a good job of letting you know when it needs more salt, and it’s okay to indulge with a little seasoning. If you aren’t eating fish multiple times per week, iodized salt can also help prevent goiters, which are caused by iodine deficiency.

The growing awareness that salt is not the enemy joins a change in how we’re looking at cardiovascular disease—there is no easy out. You have to eat a healthy diet full of whole grains and a variety of fruits and veggies, and you have to exercise daily—even if it’s just going for a walk. Cholesterol, another enemy of public health, is also slowly losing its toxin status. Newer, more intricate research has trouble tying cholesterol in foods to cholesterol levels in the body.

Sure, you could juke your stats a little by dramatically changing your diet—eating a ton of salt will cause temporary water retention and higher blood pressure, and not eating enough will have the opposite effect—but it’s not a measure of actual health or risk of cardiovascular disease.

There may be one exception, and that’s people with a very specific, uncommon, and easily tested for genetic trait. If your body isn’t regulating sodium normally, then that may be a case when you need to go on a low salt diet.

What do you think about low salt diets, are they a do or a don’t? Vote in the comments!

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