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US scientist claims salt is actually good for us
Thursday 24 August 2017

A scientist from New York has caused a stir in the world of nutrition by claiming that salt is necessary and good for us. He claims that low salt diets cause brittle bones and memory loss. Public Health England have criticised the claims saying his advice is wrong.  

Controversial claims

US scientist Dr James DiNicolantonio controversially says in his book The Salt Fix that we should be eating more salt, not less. He claims that eating more salt makes us eat less sugar and so helps people lose weight. He also claims that more salt could help people who have diabetes.

In arguments that have outraged public health bodies, he asserts that “most of us don’t need to eat low salt diets… for most of us, more salt would be better for our health than less.” Arguing that too much sugar can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease, he said that we should give in to our salt cravings.

Dr DiNicolantonio denies that there is evidence that a low salt diet will reduce blood pressure in most people, saying that people with normal blood pressure are not sensitive to the blood-pressure raising effects of salt, and that even in those with high blood pressure, “about 55% are totally immune to salt’s effect on blood pressure”.

Simplistic health theory

Dr DiNicolantonio is Associate Editor of the journal Open Heart and has previously said the “orthodox medical view on salt is based on a straightforward hypothesis… But as with so many simplistic health theories, this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding, compounded by faulty science.”

To back up his claims, Dr DiNicolantonio points out that people from the highest salt-eating countries in the world (for example Japan, South Korea and France) live the longest and have the lowest rates of coronary heart disease.

Dangerous advice

However, public health bodies in the UK and elsewhere have said that the advice from DiNicolantonio is wrong and dangerous to people’s health.

Louis Levy, Head of Nutrition Science at Public Health England, said: “By advocating a high salt diet, this book is putting the health of many at risk and it undermines internationally recognised evidence that shows a diet high in salt is linked to high blood pressure, a known risk for heart disease.”

Graham Macgregor from Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) has also refuted the claims, arguing that when the UK started reducing salt in food and making recommendations around reducing salt intake, there was a big drop in the number of heart deaths.

Current advice

The current advice in the UK is that people should not eat more than 6g of salt a day, and lower than this for babies and children – 2g of salt for those aged 1­–2 years; 3g for those aged 4–6 years; 5g for those aged 7–10 years; and 6g for those aged 11 or over.

Similarly, the Wold Health Organization recommends that people keep their salt intake to less than 5g per day for adults, to help reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart attack.

Salt and blood pressure

Dr DiNicolantonio is correct when he says that salt is necessary in our diets. Sodium keeps bodily fluids at the right concentration and it is needed for muscle and nerve activity. But the link between salt and blood pressure has been evidenced through many different studies. In fact, the link is even greater than for other lifestyle factors such as body weight, lack of fruit and vegetables, or lack of exercise.

In fact, CASH says that “the evidence that links salt to blood pressure is as strong as that linking cigarette smoking to cancer and heart disease”.

Diet controversies

The argument over salt in the diet is the latest in a string of recent diet controversies – whereby established viewpoints on what is good or bad for our health are refuted, for example the argument over the link between high cholesterol and saturated fat.

Dr DiNicolantonio’s book and arguments will no doubt set the controversy over salt going, with differing viewpoints being voiced from across the scientific and nutrition worlds.


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