It’s time to get serious about salt — according to one recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Caridology, the average U.S. adult consumes enough salt each day to do serious damage to their heart muscles. We know that sodium is a problem. Sodium levels in restaurant food and fast-food takeout have flown through the roof and become an imminent concern for American health.
But with so many other health debates simmering, such as those surrounding chemical additives, GMOs, and gluten, salt has fallen silently off the radar. Well, the radar needs to relocate: Unlike the often-imaginary health consequences of gluten and dairy, salt’s effect on heart health is very real. And it’s very serious.
Diets with a high sodium content have been known for some time now to have an inflating influence on blood pressure — which, when it gets too high, can put a great deal of strain on the heart to efficiently pump blood. High blood pressure can lead to heart attacks and other coronary problems. However, conflicting research has also shown the opposite — that too little salt can result in an escalated risk of coronary disease. The health conversation got more and more confusing, and by and large, people gave up.
In the study, participants consumed a relatively minor amount of sodium — the equivalent of at least two teaspoons of salt. That’s around the same as the average American, at 3.73 grams per day. Those who consumed more than this amount were significantly more likely to show muscle strain and dangerous enlargement of the left chamber of the heart, where the organ pumps blood through the body.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Senthil Selvaraj, explained, “This study enhances our understanding of the adverse effects of salt intake on heart function.” He encourages those who consume a lot of sodium to make an effort to cut back. With cardiovascular disease reigning as the number one cause of death worldwide, it’s worth the effort.
So if too little salt is also harmful, how much salt should we be consuming? According to the World Health Organization, a safe bet is to aim for around 2 grams each day, or about one teaspoon of table salt. That doesn’t mean it’s advisable to pour an entire teaspoon over your dinner. It’s important to keep in mind that many popular foods — such as popcorn, soup, Chinese food, and dozens of others — contain a good amount of sodium already.
We’d also like to note that the study does not definitively prove that salt is bad for you, or that it causes heart attacks. The study was limited in that the majority of participants assessed were already overweight and experiencing high blood pressure, making them increasingly prone to fluctuation. So don’t go crazy on eating only foods that taste bland — just be mindful of how much you’re pouring over your meal.