Speed Reads

Shake it up

You probably aren't eating too much salt

"Too much" salt is a lot more than you think

For a long time it's been a shibboleth among America's healthy circles: too much salt is bad for you, because it causes high blood pressure and heart problems. This is true! As my colleague Catherine Garcia reported, a study released this month showed that people who consumed 7 grams of sodium or more had an increased risk of death.

However, that is a lot of sodium, more than twice the average American intake of 3.4 grams per day. And what tends to go unmentioned in these reports is that too little sodium can also be bad for you. That same study found that people who consumed less than 3 grams per day had a risk of death and cardiovascular problems greater than the people who consumed 7 grams!

As Aaron Carroll points out, a range of 3-6 grams is way, way above most official recommendations:

The United States Food and Drug Administration thinks that's not low enough. It recommends 2.3 grams per day. The World Health Organization says it should be 2.0 grams. The American Heart Association goes even further and recommends we consume no more than 1.5 grams.

As he says, there is simply no evidence to support these recommendations, and increasing evidence shows they're too low. Sodium serves a critical function in the nervous system — a shortage quickly leads to terrible illness. So unless you're really going heavy on the soy sauce, chances are you probably don't have to worry about your salt intake.