We simply found no definitive proof that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks or strokes.- Researcher Ludovic Trinquart
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
The prevailing wisdom — and that of the NYC Health Department — has long been that eating too much salt is bad for you, but now, some scientists are shaking things up.
A new article in the International Journal of Epidemiology found there is no consensus among scientists on whether reducing salt leads to better health. The study — by Sandro Galea, who served on the NYC Board of Health, and Ludovic Trinquart and David Merritt Johns of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health — reviewed more than 35 years of literature on salt intake.
“We simply found no definitive proof that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks or strokes for people with normal blood pressure,” says Trinquart.
The report comes just as the city is embroiled in a legal battle over a new law that requires restaurants with 15 or more locations to put a warning symbol next to menu items that have in excess of 2,300 milligrams of sodium. The law went into effect in December, and the city was to start fining restaurants that didn’t abide it this month. But, on Monday, a New York state appeals judge granted an interim stay of enforcement of the rule, in a victory for the National Restaurant Association, which has called the law “arbitrary and capricious.”
The NYC Health Department says the report doesn’t mean salt isn’t bad for you. “Any area of study will include studies with a mix of supportive, contradictory or inconclusive findings,” says a spokesperson. “The body of evidence describing the very serious health concerns associated with excess sodium intake spans decades and is solid and conclusive.”
Dr. Howard S. Weintraub, clinical director of the NYU Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, thinks the city is in the right with its salty warnings. “[They] will have a positive effect on my patients,” he says. “Why order a salad if it is going to have more sodium than a hamburger or something seemingly more decadent?”
However, some question the need for awareness when the science isn’t certain. “There has never been one clinical trial to date that conclusively demonstrated that reducing dietary sodium intake translates into any measurable cardiovascular benefit,” says Dr. Mike Fenster, a cardiologist and the author of “The Fallacy of the Calorie.” He also says that “not all salt is created equal” and notes that iodized salt (table salt) is a good source of iodine, which is essential for healthy thyroid function. Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt contains essential trace minerals like zinc, which, he says, are “imperative for absorption of nutrients.”
Ultimately, it seems that diners should take both the new report and the health department warnings with a grain of salt.