The U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently reviewed all the studies and information about sodium intake to assess the value of eating a sodium-restrictive diet.(1) For many years the American Heart Association and cardiologists have recommended a limited sodium intake for those with hypertension (high blood pressure.) Based largely on a certain biochemical logic there has been a belief that limiting sodium intake was helpful dietary advice for those with hypertension, as well as some stereotypical groups for cardiovascular disease -- such as African-Americans and individuals over 51 years old. The review performed by the IOM found that the actual benefits are not clear cut at all. The American Heart Association is not happy with the IOM finding and continues to stick by their recommendation of keeping sodium intake below 1500 mg a day.
For most of the years in private practice I have dismissed the sodium connection to hypertension. Sodium is an essential mineral; it's used in the body for nerve and muscle function. The kidneys are especially adapted for eliminating excessive levels of sodium. There are a few rare individuals who are sensitive to sodium. In my clinical experience these cases have been pretty exclusively among those with impaired kidney function. For those who have high blood pressure, it is worth a trial period of low-sodium to see if it reduces blood pressure. In those cases where it matters, reducing one's sodium is a LOT better than taking pharmaceutical drugs. But, 99% of the time sodium intake makes no difference. Does this mean you should dump the entire salt shaker on your food? No. Moderation is ALWAYS a safe course of action! Nobody should go overboard on anything just because it's not been proven harmful. You also don't have to be totaling up every milligram of sodium. Just eat healthy!
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