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Are we consuming too little salt?

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…Cutting back on salt can reduce blood pressure, but often, the change in blood pressure is small. According to the American Heart Association, a person who reduces salt intake from median levels (around 3,400 milligrams ) to the federal recommended levels (no more than 2,300 mg) typically sees a slight drop of 1% to 2% in blood pressure, on average.

Also, other factors affect blood pressure. For example, blood pressure increases with weight gain and decreases with weight loss. So, keeping a healthy weight can help prevent high blood pressure. Eating foods high in potassium also seems to counter some of the effects of high salt consumption on blood pressure.

Studies comparing salt intake in different countries worldwide have not found a clear connection between salt intake and high blood pressure. Societies that eat lower levels of salt do not necessarily have less heart disease than those that eat a lot of salt.

…Surprisingly little is known about how much salt we need. U.S. residents consume, on average, about 3,400 milligrams of salt per day. For decades, the U.S. government and organizations, such as the American Heart Association, have recommended people consume less salt. Current dietary guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium—about a teaspoon of salt—per day for teens and adults. No more than 1,500 mg per day is recommended for groups at higher risk of heart disease, including African Americans and everyone over the age of 50.

The U.S. dietary guidelines were established in the 1970s when relatively little information was available about dietary salt and health. The guidelines were the best guess, given the information available at the time. …

Some scientists now say that the average amount of salt U.S. residents eat (3,400 mg of salt per day) is safe and may even be healthier than the lower government guidelines.

In fact, a study found that people who meet the U.S. recommended limits for salt (2,300 mg of sodium per day) have more heart trouble than those consuming more salt. This study included approximately 150,000 people from 17 countries and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Scientists challenging the current guidelines say people should consume at least 3,000 mg of salt per day and up to 6,000 mg per day. The new research results suggest a low-sodium diet may stimulate the production of renin, an enzyme released by the kidneys. Renin plays a role in regulating the body’s water balance and blood pressure. Too much renin may harm blood vessels, and a high-sodium diet would help lower the amount of renin produced….

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