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Scientists Say it’s Safe to Pass the Salt, For Now

People who much prefer the flavorful tang of well-salted foods to their bland counterparts can once again reach for the salt shaker without fear of health risks, for now at least. A recent British clinical trial in which researchers studied the salt intake of 6,500 people called into question the long-held views that salt is inherently bad.

Study participants had either normal or high blood pressure at the beginning of the trial and were put on a salt-restrictive diet. Over the course of the study, scientists noted that reducing sodium did in fact provide a small decrease in participant blood pressure. However, they failed to see a correlation between the blood pressure decrease and a participant’s actual likelihood of dying from a cardiac incident.

Scientists have previously established that to significantly lower a person’s risk of a cardiovascular event, the person’s blood pressure would need to be lowered 2-3 mm Hg; study participants experienced only a 1.1/0.6 mm HG decrease on average.

For years, the US Food and Drug Administration has made wide-sweeping efforts to reduce the amount of salt consumed by Americans, primarily through pre-packaged and processed foods. After encouraging independent food manufacturers to voluntarily reduce the amount of salt used in their products, the FDA unleashed a program in 2010 that could potentially set a legal limit for salt levels in food. These efforts are based entirely upon the assumption that high levels of salt are dangerous to the overall health of Americans.

While these new studies put a large question mark over the FDA’s assumptions, they do not give people free license to add an extra dash of salt to everything they eat. It may not have been proven that low levels of salt can prevent heart issues, but it is still widely accepted by scientists and health officials like that extra-high levels of salt in a diet can contribute to increased heart health risks.

For now, what these study findings reveal is that people should be free to enjoy salt as part of a healthy diet, keeping everything in moderation. Scientists recognize there is still a great need for more studies over a longer period of time to give us definitive answers about the relationship between sodium and heart health.

If you have questions about heart health and salt intake, read this Q&A from the FDA or contact your doctor to get personalized information.

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