A committee comprised of esteemed academics and physicians has determined that contrary to the conclusions made in several hundred previous studies and issued in countless health advisories, there is actually in fact “no rationale for anyone to aim for sodium levels below 2,300 milligrams a day,” the Times reports. The group, which was organized “at the behest” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reportedly looked at lots of data and concluded that sodium reduction efforts may not be as useful for preventing heart attacks and strokes as previously thought. What’s more — and we’re paraphrasing loosely here — it turns out that salt consumption remains one of the most screwy and baffling dietary metrics of all time.
What does it mean? Say you have a history of eating really poorly: Burger King for breakfast, Wendy’s for lunch, Taco Bell for dinner. You start feeling bad, and your doctor says you have to cut down. You do, and consume your entire day’s recommended sodium with one ten-ounce bag of plain Lay’s, or a Big Mac with a few French fries on the side, and then eat healthy the rest of the day. Congrats, your sodium level is somewhere around the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 1,500 mg a day.
However, according to various studies cited by the committee, your risk of congestive heart failure may actually increase sharply when you start eating healthier. “As you go below the 2,300 [mg of sodium per day] mark,” says Dr. Brian L. Strom, the committee chair, “there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms.”
The committee didn’t set (or set out to) recommend an optimal daily intake of sodium; those guidelines are set for a 2015 revision. Instead, its findings suggest that for the most part, the reduction of dietary salt, which is known to reduce blood pressure — and by extension has inspired salt-shaming ad campaigns and significantly informed public policy — may be a poor guarantor of future health. It may seem like common sense, as both very high and very low levels of salt intake can screw with the metabolism in a variety of complicated ways, which the committee suggests become the focal point of research.
“What they have done is earth-shattering,” Dr. Michael H. Alderman of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine tells the Times. “They have changed the paradigm of this issue. Until now it was all about blood pressure.”