Eat more salt?

Too much salt can lead to heart attacks, heart failure or strokes

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Should you eat more or less salt?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Too much salt in your diet is already known for its negative effects on your health - potentially leading to heart attacks, heart failure or strokes - but how about too little?

Some studies link a low salt intake to heart disease, saying it is about striking the right balance.

However, others recommend less salt in your diet, with even a small reduction having an enormous impact on your health.

The Claim

According to BBC Future, some scientists are arguing that "a low-salt diet is just as much of a risk factor for developing high blood pressure as high salt consumption".

For instance, a meta-analysis, published in the American Journal of Hypertension, looked at the link between low salt intake and heart disease.

The researchers claimed that that consuming less than 5.6g of salt a day is associated with negative health outcomes - in the same way that consuming more than 12.5g a day is.

Another US study, involving more than 170,000 people, found a link between a low salt intake of less than 7.5g a day and the increased link of heart disease events and even death.

Andrew Mente, the study's lead author from McMaster University in Ontario, said: "The finding of a sweet spot in the middle is consistent with what you would expect for any essential nutrient… where at high levels you have toxicity and at low levels you have deficiency.

"An optimal level is always found somewhere in the middle."

The Counterclaim

However, Feng He, a professor of global health research at Queen Mary University of London, says there is no great salt debate.

In an article for The Conversation, she says we should be consuming less salt.

Consuming too much salt raises blood pressure, and this can increase the risk of heart attacks, heart failure and stroke.

She explains: "The message remains clear: salt reduction saves lives, and the findings from studies that use a less reliable assessment of salt intake should not be used to derail critical public health policy or divert action.

"A gradual reduction in salt intake across the whole population, as recommended by WHO, remains an achievable, affordable, effective and important strategy to prevent cardiovascular diseases and premature death worldwide.

"Even a small reduction in salt intake will have an enormous benefit on people’s health."

The Facts

The NHS recommends that adults should not eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) - that's around one teaspoon of salt.

Children should eat less salt than adults, according to their age. Babies under one should not eat much salt, because their kidneys are not fully developed.

For children aged one to three, the maximum salt consumption is 2g. This goes up to 3g for four to six-year-olds, 5g for seven to 10-year-olds, and 6g for over-11s.

You can see the salt content of food by checking the amount of sodium shown on the labels. To convert sodium to salt, you need to multiply the sodium amount by 2.5.

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Is a low-salt diet as unhealthy as having too much?

Last year a video of Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe lovingly seasoning a massive steak with a pinch of salt amassed millions of views online and earned him the nickname 'salt bae'. But it wasn't just his attention to detail that captured attention.

We're obsessed with salt - despite warnings we're consuming too much of it and harming our health in the process. But a counter-argument is gaining ground, casting doubt on decades of research and shedding light on the questions that still remain unanswered about our favourite seasoning.

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