Don't worry so much about limiting sodium, researchers say

October 20, 2009 By Anna Tong

University of California-Davis nutrition researchers are challenging the decades-old conventional wisdom that we should watch our salt.

The controversial article, published this week in the Clinical , found that humans naturally regulate their sodium intake, rendering government intervention useless.

It's a study that has angered nutrition policy advocates; one went so far as to call the study "junk." But co-author David McCarron, an adjunct UC-Davis nutrition professor, said it is backed by sound data and that he expects such a left-field finding to get heat.

The study concluded that the human body makes sure sodium levels remain within a certain range at all times, similar to bodily functions that are homeostatically maintained, such as body temperature.

"Our sodium intake is regulated by the brain, and your brain won't let you go very far outside of that boundary," McCarron said. "You may eat that whole bag of chips, but it just means that as you sit down you'll unconsciously go toward foods that are lower in sodium."

After aggregating sodium intake data from 20,000 adults in 32 countries, researchers found the adult range of sodium intake to be narrow: between 2,700 to 4,900 milligrams of sodium a day. Because the data encompasses many different dietary cultures, researchers concluded that humans, on their own, maintain a "normal" range of .

"There looks to be a pretty darn strict lower and upper limit on sodium levels," McCarron said. "Just because our is filled with sodium doesn't mean it's ending up in our bodies."

Furthermore, the authors concluded that the U.S. guidelines are too stringent. Current FDA dietary guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium be eaten per day, which is 14.8 percent lower than the study's observed lower limit.

Co-author Judith Stern, a professor at UC Davis, said lawmakers should instead focus on more pressing public health issues, such as childhood obesity.

"They need to work on setting priorities," she said.

The study's findings are scientifically plausible, said Christopher D. Gardner, an associate professor at Stanford Medical School.

"But as a consumer, I don't believe it," he said. "If you laid out a bunch of foods in front of me and they were highly processed with sodium, I don't think I would stop eating them once I had reached my sodium limit."

The findings are in stark contrast to what doctors and public health researchers have long preached: A low-sodium diet is important for reducing blood pressure and risk of heart disease and strokes.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based nutritional advocacy group, said the study is doing public health a disservice.

It's ridiculous to say that humans cannot lower their salt intake, because most of our excess salt intake is from processed foods, he said. Certain tribes have been known to consume less than 1,000 mg of per day, and several European countries have been successful in getting residents to lower salt intake, Jacobson said.

"All experts agree that our current levels of are causing heart attacks and strokes," he said. "This study is really an outlier."

(c) 2009, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).
Visit The Sacramento Bee online at
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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1.8 / 5 (4) Oct 20, 2009
I believe we should lower the amount of sodium we have in our diets. I would love it if they made low sodium soups and V8 juice in small containers. Also we don't have salt shakers, we use very little salt in what we cook, etc, but that is what we choose.

Now we have the government who is deciding what it considers junk food. It wants to nudge us into making the right food choices (higher taxes on junk food, perhaps in the future higher health insurance premiums)eating food with less sugar, less salt, less fat, etc..

The problem is when the food police say something is unhealthy (remember in the past eggs were considered a bad food) they want to prevent others from eating it. However as science is often showing what we think is bad, might not be so bad after all.

How about we keep the government and the CSP out of our food choices. You eat your high salt foods, I my low salt foods, we're both happy and we both live with our choices.
not rated yet Oct 21, 2009
I have observed that my interest in a high salt diet has switched without any conscious intent on my part. I now prefer low or no salt chips, for example, after years of eating very salty foods.

More relevant: The body does regulate the excretion of salt automatically. I question any research that does not take into account the effeciency of this process for the individuals in the test sample. In particular, my "subconscious" change in tastes may well be due to the serious changes in voiding perfomance due to prostate cancer treatment.

If the automatic excretion method becomes faulty, the subconcious "change in taste" method may kick in. These two complementary mechanisms allow both views to be correct.
1 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2009
they are forgetting that too much salt makes you thirsty, and so your body is trying to self regulate the salt with more water. Its right in front of us. the reason we don’t see it is because when we have too much water and too little salt, we don’t thirst for salt, we just piss out the excess water. salt was once money. Water is in much more abundance, so our intake of water is used to control the level of salt. Have more salt, drink water/piss less, have less salt, drink less water/piss more. salt is too valuable to throw away, so we mdeiate it through dilution rather than expulsion.

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