Stay healthy with the right amount of salt

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Posted: Monday, July 9, 2012 8:00 pm

(ARA) - Many Americans are becoming increasing frustrated with medical reports that advise avoiding certain foods like fats, coffee, alcohol and then later say that these things are actually good. When it comes to the question of how much salt to consume, however, the situation becomes much different since the human body needs salt to function properly.

"The first thing we do when a patient comes in and is unresponsive is give them a saline solution intravenously," says Bernadette Collins, a registered critical care nurse from Maryland. "Salt is essential for life but many people are confused about how much they need."

Currently Americans consume on average 1.5 teaspoons of salt per day, a level which government officials consider far too high. However, new research indicates that this level of salt intake is actually the right one and that the low levels being advocated by government agencies are too low and may actually cause harm.

Dr. Michael Alderman and Dr. Hillel Cohen of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reviewed 23 observational studies covering some 360,000 individuals and published their comprehensive results in the American Journal of Hypertension (July 2012). They found that at both the very low and very high levels of salt consumption there was a negative effect on health, but in between those extremes there was a broad safe range of salt consumption that resulted in optimum health.

This "optimum" range was between 1 and 2.5 teaspoons of salt per person, per day. In other words, Americans already consume the optimal amount of salt. "This robust body of evidence does not support universal reduction of sodium intake," the doctors concluded in their report.

Many sufferers of hypertension are told to lower their salt intake, and patients should always heed the advice of the doctors. But at best, reducing salt intake alone may only lower blood pressure by a few points. Medication and weight loss are far better factors at reducing hypertension, and research shows, the health risks of consuming too little salt can include increased morbidity and mortality for diabetes patients and others.

"The debate on the right amount of salt people should eat is over. It's time we base our nutritional recommendations on the actual evidence rather than outdated opinion," says Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute.

The 2010 US Dietary Guidelines on salt consumption insist that the maximum amount anyone should consume per day is less than 1 teaspoon, and that is for healthy people, or about half of all Americans. The guidelines recommend an even lower amount, 2/3 teaspoon of salt, for the other half of the U.S. population which is considered at risk. This includes people with hypertension, of high blood pressure, as well as the elderly and certain ethnic and racial populations.

"Our Dietary Guidelines are totally out of touch with the latest science. If we don't correct them, Americans will suffer," Roman says.

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