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What’s bad for us... today? The reality is that according to an article in The Washington Post, “the answer’s the same, because the kind of research that would definitively answer that question is impossible to do.” They go on to say that “We can’t hold large groups of people captive, feeding them a specific kind of diet until they die from it — or don’t. The studies in which people are held captive are necessarily too short to reveal long-term effects, and the other studies, in which we try to draw conclusions from what free-living people eat, are complicated by all the other things those free-living people do."
This kind of reporting brings smiles to food lobbyists and other groups who have long taken issue with ingredients under fire for causing harm. Except for one – and that is salt.
There is, however, one thing you can’t fill in the blank with, and that’s salt.
In 2013, a review of research on long-term salt reduction concluded that there’s a significant benefit in the form of reduced blood pressure, results that provided “strong support for a reduction in population salt intake.” A 2014 study of more than 100,000 people from 17 countries found that sodium consumption “between 3 g per day and 6 g per day was associated with a lower risk of death and cardiovascular events than was either a higher or lower .?.?. intake.” (That’s between 3,000 and 6,000 milligrams, by the way, significantly more than the U.S. government’s proposed guideline of 2,300 milligrams a day or less). And a recent report from the Institute of Medicine highlighted possible dangers from too little sodium and concluded that there’s no reason to go below the U.S. guideline.
The best-documented population-wide reduction was in the United Kingdom.
The Washington Post’s story says that in 2003, a government-commissioned report on salt concluded that high salt consumption in the British population was contributing to cardiovascular disease and stroke. The U.K.’s Food Standards Agency responded with a two-pronged salt-reduction plan. The first prong was increasing public awareness. The second, critical prong was working with the processed-food industry to reduce salt in their products.
When the study commenced, Briton's salt intake averaged 3,740 milligrams of sodium per day. By 2011, consumption had dropped 15 percent, to 3,190 milligrams. Blood pressure dropped commensurately. Stroke mortality dropped by 42 percent, heart disease by 40 percent.
Was it all from reduced sodium? They can’t say that as smoking dropped (from 19 percent of the population to 14 percent), and fruit and vegetable consumption rose slightly (by about one-fifth of a portion per day).
There are others that instituted similar population-wide salt reduction programs, Japan and Finland, that also saw big drops in disease. (Finland’s program resulted in a 30 percent decrease in salt intake over a 20-year period, and a 75 to 80 percent decrease in deaths from stroke and heart disease.
Maybe its time to stop arguing and just reformulate?