Salt Controversy #2: how much salt should we have?


How much salt … that is the question! For years, doctors and government regulators alike have been telling us to reduce our salt intake for health reasons. They say too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and even death. But is this true? Is salt really the enemy? While there is still a debate on this topic, research shows the white stuff we use to flavour our food isn’t quite the evil it’s made out to be. Well, if you’re consuming the right type that is!

The Truth about Salt and our Body

Salt has now been one of the great villains for a few decades. Traditionally, New Zealanders sprinkle salt over a meal before even tasting it. This habit not only turn many chefs off, it may have a negative impact on our health. On average, New Zealanders consume about 9 grams of sodium per day – while the current recommended amount in NZ is between 2.3 grams and 6 grams  (about 1 teaspoon from all food sources). According to the Stroke Foundation of New Zealand,  less is better, especially if you’re managing high blood pressure.

Yet, Brian Strom, MD, chair of the Institute of Medicine ’s report committee says “There’s no data — none — showing that curtailing sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams provides better health outcomes” . The report (commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) looked at 34 studies and four clinical trials that tracked the health of people consuming different amounts of salt over the course of up to 18 years.
The conclusion: There isn’t enough convincing evidence that people — even those in high-risk groups — who consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day have fewer heart attacks or strokes than those who consume higher amounts.

Low-Salt Diets May Even Be Harmful

Many people forget that sodium is an essential nutrient serving a multitude of functions in the body, including helping control heart rate and aiding the transmission of signals in the brain. And too little salt may pose surprising health risks. One 2011 study, which tracked 28,880 people with heart disease or diabetes, found that those who consumed less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day were 37 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who consumed 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams. As sodium intake drops, blood levels of cholesterol and fat can increase, escalating cardiovascular issues.

For years studies have repeatedly shown that a low-sodium diet can reduce blood pressure. But the report from the institute of medicine found that  this one benefit doesn’t offset the overall consequences on the body, including increased cholesterol and insulin resistance, which are thought to be the possible result of cutting almost all the salt from our diet.

Low salt diets can be especially harmful for the elderly. In older people, mild hyponatremia (low sodium concentration) is the most common form of electrolyte imbalance in the blood. Indeed, several recent medical papers found a direct relationship between hyponatremia and unsteadiness, falls, bone fractures and attention deficits. Elderly people on low salt diets often experience lack of thirst which leads to dehydration and they experience loss of appetite that leads to a host of health problems.

How much Salt Should we have?

The fact remains that most of us are consuming well above 2,300 milligrams of sodium, and the consequences can be serious.

As an example, studies show that prehypertensive people who consumed 3,600 milligrams or more per day for up to 18 months were about twice as likely to have heart attacks, strokes, or heart surgeries 15 years later than people who reduced their consumption to 2,300 milligrams, according to a study in the British Medical Journal.

Another study done in 2014 and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, tested sodium consumption in more than 100,000 people in 17 countries. The study found that the healthy range for sodium consumption was between 3,000 and 6,000 mg per day. Eating more than 7,000 mg per day of sodium increases your risk of death or cardiovascular incidents, but not as much as eating less than 3,000 mg per day. The low salt diet was significantly more harmful than the high salt diet.

Finally, it is well documented that the Japanese and the Swiss enjoy some of the longest life expectancy rates of anyone in the world. It is less known however, that they also have among the highest rates of salt consumption.

Ultimately, we should aim for the middle, remove the risks and still reap the health benefits that salt has to offer, too.

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 July 2012 edition of the American Journal of Hypertension. They found that both the very low and very high levels of salt consumption negatively affected health, but in between those extremes, a very broad safe range of salt consumption resulted in optimum health.

The August 14, 2014 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine summarised the latest research on the impact of sodium (salt) consumption from 3 different studies .
More than 73 % of the countries in the world consume between 2,800-5,500 mg sodium per day (7,112-13,970 mg salt or 1¼ – 2 ½ teaspoons), where the negative health impacts are the least.

Iodised salt , called 'fake salt' by some, doesn't have the same benefits unfortunately. Lacking many of the original minerals and supplemented with various chemicals, this type of salt can cause excess fluid in your body tissues and lead to various health issues.

Why do we crave salt if it's bad for us?

First, a craving for salt (which decreases when consuming unrefined salts) often camouflage a need for other minerals than sodium chloride, the main mineral in salt. Other minerals and trace represent a minute percentage in the composition of salt. Therefore we need to get these other minerals from a different source in our diet. That is why a diet rich in vegetation is so important, they are the main source of minerals for our body.

The vegetation from the sea (seaweed) in particular is a very concentred source of minerals, up to 20 times the amount found in land vegetables for the same weight. So a little seaweed everyday goes a long way...

We've been told that : “Salt causes high blood pressure and should be avoided.” the origin for this claim dates back to the 1940s,  when a Duke University researcher named Walter Kempner, M.D., became famous for using salt restriction to treat people with high blood pressure. Later, studies confirmed that reducing salt could help reduce hypertension.

Not as simple as it sounds. Unrefined salts contain a broad spectrum of trace elements, but in minute quantities. These include magnesium and potassium, necessary for health and which help the body metabolize the sodium better. The more sodium you eat, the more potassium and magnesium you need to maintain balance, which can't be maintained exclusively by what's in the salt.

Few of us get enough of these important trace elements in our diets, yet we eat high amounts of sodium in salt. Dutch researchers have determined that a low potassium intake has the same impact on your blood pressure as high salt consumption does. Surveys show that the average consumption of potassium & magnesium is generally inadequate in most people's diet. Striving for a diet rich in magnesium & potassium will help balance salt intake.

What can you do?

One of the difficulties is that natural sea salt has been found to be too weak in iodine to provide any substantial supplementation to our diet; but iodine is naturally plentiful in sea vegetables/seaweed.
Click on the link to find out why iodine is important.

Pacific Harvest produces ‘Kelp Salt’, which combines the many health benefits of natural sea salt  - from NZ, with those of kelp seaweed. Kelp Salt is a natural sea salt using iodine naturally occurring in kelp to produce a ‘naturally iodised natural sea salt’. Its strong mineral taste is satisfying, therefore requiring a smaller amount to get the salty taste.


“Salt Your Way to Health’ by Dr David Brownstein
“Seasalt’s Hidden Powers” by Dr Jacques Langre
Salt Institute
Food myths about salt and high blood pressure

Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific & individual needs & requirements.

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