Many of you probably know I’ve written about salt and added sugar several times in the past, and I always make an effort to not be overly repetitive. However, when new information comes to light that can add to the discussion, I like to mention it.
Here’s what I ran into this week and what you need to know.
A new book claims we should be consuming more salt.
Dr. James DiNicolantonio has written a book called “The Salt Fix” in which he discusses the bad advice scientists and health experts have given about salt and sodium consumption for years. In his book, DiNicolantonio claims we’re all consuming far less salt than we should be, and this is the primary cause of the world’s obesity epidemic. “Instead of ignoring your salt cravings, you should give in to them—they are guiding you to better health,” DiNicolantonio argues.
When I first came across his theory, I did consider that there might be something to what the author is saying. Why? Because the health recommendations for daily intake of sodium are less than perfect. The recommend amounts vary, but most major health organizations recommend between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams of sodium in your daily diet. Almost all Americans exceed these guidelines, as the average is about 3,400 milligrams a day, and many people consume amounts well above that. But if those numbers do remain less than perfect, does that mean we should ignore the advice of most world health organizations? Not necessarily.
DiNicolantonio’s argument involves consuming more salt and less sugar.
DiNicolantonio explained his argument by saying it’s sugar that we need to eat far less of. He’s not wrong. Too much added sugar remains a major problem in our diets. In fact, haven’t I frequently discussed the negative effects of sugar on a consistent basis? Then why am I so ready to dismiss his theory?
His ideas made me look through some old research and notes. I wanted to be sure I gave his ideas proper thought and consideration. Health experts have, of course, gotten things wrong in the past. They made dietary fat the enemy, and this led to massive increases in our daily consumption of sugar. That, in turn, has fueled the current obesity epidemic DiNicolantonio says he’s trying to tackle. So might that mean he’s on to something?
Unfortunately, it still doesn’t make him right.
The problem with arguing for more salt consumption is that there’s very little evidence this will actually improve anyone’s health. Even though the current guidelines on sodium consumption aren’t correct, the premise of them is generally correct—less salt is usually better and should be the general goal. If someone is obese and they want to lower their weight to improve their health, consuming more sodium is only going to cause more water retention and slow their progress.
The problem with DiNicolantonio’s argument lies in the old adage “two wrongs don’t make a right.” On average, are people consuming far too much added sugar on a daily basis? Yes, they absolutely are. Is this worsening the obesity epidemic in America? Of course it is. However, is there enough credible evidence that consuming significantly higher amounts of sodium is going to improve any of our current problems? No, there isn’t. There may be some evidence out there that this argument is true, but I’m sure tobacco companies still release some research suggesting that cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer.
This argument simply isn’t credible enough to be taken seriously.
What’s the truth?
The reason we’ve been told to cut back on sodium is the long-standing belief that doing so will decrease our blood pressure and risk of other diseases. There’s some evidence of this, but even though lowering your sodium intake may improve your health to a degree, it rarely makes the significant difference we’ve been told to expect for decades. One review of seven randomized control trial studies concluded that there was no strong evidence of decreased salt consumption and improved health. In fact, the only health effects they did observe related to excessive restriction of salt consumption in a patient’s diet.
The truth, as with most things, lies somewhere in between. Health expert Kris Gunnars’ article titled “The Salt Myth—How Much Sodium Should You Eat Per Day?” breaks down these arguments perfectly. In his summary, Gunnars states, “If your doctor has recommended that you limit sodium for whatever reason, then by all means continue to do so. However, for people who are generally healthy and want to stay healthy, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to be even remotely concerned about moderate intakes of sodium.”
There’s simply no reason to believe that eating significantly higher amounts of salt on a daily basis will improve your health. I agree with DiNicolantonio’s assertion that sugar is worse for our health than salt, but too much salt isn’t anything like the cure-all he’s suggesting it is. At best, doing this will have a mostly neutral effect on your health. At worst, increasing salt consumption can lead to a host of additional health problems.
I’ll leave you with this analogy: If your friend had a nicotine addiction he couldn’t quit, would you suggest he start drinking more alcohol? Essentially, that’s what DiNicolantonio is suggesting, and it’s a dangerously ill-informed argument he’s trying to make.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.