A new Competitive Enterprise Institute report challenges conventional wisdom on sodium, its impact on hypertension, and the restrictions sought by federal regulators.
“When it comes to the salt in our food, regulators and health activists are wrong to push a one-size-fits-all sodium-restriction plan on everyone,” said Michelle Minton, a Competitive Enterprise Institute fellow and author of the report, Shaking up the Conventional Wisdom on Salt What Science Really Says About Sodium and Hypertension.
“There’s no evidence that a severe cutback in sodium will lead to overall public health gains, as regulators, activists, and media reports often claim,” Minton explained. “In fact, it may actually hurt certain groups of people. Instead, what the science shows is the best way to help prevent or treat hypertension is healthy lifestyle choices, like a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, and recommendations tailored to each person’s unique needs.”
The report makes the point that health advocates are right to worry about hypertension, a serious condition affecting a large percentage of people. Globally, around 40 percent of the population has elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk for strokes and heart attacks. The challenge facing policy makers and public health programs is how best to help people, given the genetic, lifestyle, and cultural diversity in people, within the United States and worldwide.
The report finds that sodium restriction, while it may be right for some people, is not the best approach to blood pressure reduction for all. The report also urges policy makers to identify and implement strategies likely to benefit most Americans and based on robust scientific evidence, not unsubstantiated theories and assumptions. For example, government agencies and health organizations should advise people to lose weight and consume more fruits and vegetables as a means to reduce blood pressure and confer other health benefits.
- Humans might have a set appetite for sodium. Despite the fact that people now consume more processed and salty foods than before, researchers have found salt consumption unchanged over the last five decades.
- Sodium restriction has health risks. For example, research shows diabetic patients are more likely to die with very low (or very high) sodium intake. Diabetics represent nearly 30 million Americans, or 10 percent of the population; so a one-size-fits-all sodium policy could hurt them.
- Instead of reducing salt consumption, increasing dietary potassium and losing weight are, for most people, effective ways to lower blood pressure, regardless of race, sex, or age.