Eating less than one teaspoon of salt per day remains the ideal goal for North Americans, according to a new study from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Most research has linked high sodium consumption with greater risks of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Evidence has shown that men and women age 51 or older, African Americans or those with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease face especially high risks.
But when several studies produced findings suggesting diets could be too low in sodium, the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) asked experts to review studies on the health effects of sodium.
In an attempt to resolve the conflicting information, researchers analyzed data from a previous large study called the Trials of Hypertension Prevention (TOHP) designed to look at high blood pressure. The TOHP followed the field's "gold-standard" technique of measuring salt consumption in 24-hour urine samples.
Other salt consumption studies have used single urine collections or overnight samples, neither of which provide as much consistency and accuracy as samples that participants collected throughout an entire day and night.
The researchers found no adverse effects with lower amounts of sodium and benefits continued to be seen at the lowest sodium levels. The findings match up with most evidence available.
The lead researcher pointed out that quality differs from study to study; some studies are more reliable than others.
The average North American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium per day - about one-and-a-half teaspoons worth of table salt.
In a study published last year, researchers projected that up to 500,000 deaths could be avoided in the U.S. each year if more Americans reduced salt in their diets.
Main food culprits include fast food, soup, frozen meals, canned vegetables and cold cuts. But hidden sodium lurks in foods you wouldn’t think to check including hot chocolate mixes, instant oatmeal, frozen waffles, bread, and breakfast cereals.
Read nutrition labels. Sodium is also listed as a percentage of a Daily Value (% DV). Use the Daily Value to get a quick overview of whether there’s a little or a lot of sodium in one serving of a food. A food that has a % DV of 5% or less is considered low in sodium. A food that has a % DV of 15% or greater is high in sodium.
Just as our taste buds get used to high levels of sodium, they can adjust to eating less salt within a few weeks. As the body adjusts to lower sodium levels, then foods with high sodium will be less appealing.
Source: Circulation, online January 10, 2014.
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