For quite a few years, the general consensus to lower risk of heart disease and hypertension was to stick with a low salt diet. Hopefully you didn’t follow buy into the dogma.
I’m not entirely sure where the low sodium hogwash started, but I know why it survived for so long. Mainly because no one got hurt financially. All the large food companies didn’t have to change anything—they just came up with low sodium products. Low sodium soups. Low sodium frozen entrees. Low sodium diet sodas.
Had we looked at the big picture, what we would have had to admit was that it wasn’t the sodium, it was processed foods high in sodium. Refined carbohydrates, oils high in omega 6 fatty acids, hydrogenated oils and dilapidated fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of most processed foods. And when we eat these foods, we get sick. No big shocker there. But it was so easy to blame this on the sodium levels because then the products did not need to change, just the sodium levels.
As a result of this, there became a very large national campaign to lower sodium intake and the entire medical profession bought into it hook line and sinker. I have covered the demise of the sodium recommendation in a prior blog article that can be read by clicking here. But to summarize, maintaining a diet of less than 1500 mg sodium has no effect on heart disease rates in those with normal blood pressure, prehypertension or hypertension. But besides not having any real effect on the risk of heart disease (less than 5% of the population is sensitive to sodium, and even then only if they have an overall low quality diet), at least there wasn’t any harm done. Right?
Turns out that might not be exactly true. This particular review identifies some of the negative consequences of a low sodium diet. In particular:
- Worsening of prediabetes
- Worsening of serum lipids (cholesterol, triglycerides)
- Worsening of neurohormonal pathways, leading to higher risk of actually developing cardiometabolic disease as well as the severity of existing cardiac disease.
- An overall higher rate of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.
Wow. Sounds like we put all our eggs into the wrong basket.
I’m not saying that we should go out of our way to try to take in 10,000 mg of sodium per day. But by avoiding processed foods we can go a long way towards not having to worry about your sodium intake. Awareness is key. As an example, a Mongolian grill near my house is a great option for eating healthy, but some of the sauces can have 3,000 mg or more of sodium per ladle! If you’re not aware of this little factoid, you would think that you’ve made a good choice. Once you are aware, it’s easy to choose the other sauces that aren’t so high in sodium.
In summary, it’s not about reading the nutrition facts label for the sodium and carbohydrate count, it’s about scooting your eyes a little further down and reading through the ingredients instead. It should pass my “8-year old rule.” If the typical 8 year old child can’t read the ingredients, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.