The notion that too much salt is bad for you is illogical, explains Andrea Burgener.
The notion that too much salt is bad for you is illogical, explains Andrea Burgener.
Image: 123RF / Ivan Dzyuba

Time to return to one of my long-standing bugbears: the salt myth. And by that I mean the notion – only a few decades old – that sodium chloride is bad for us. There’s no end to the illogical crap that the food industry gets us to buy into, and the salt myth is right up there at the top of the pile.

Worldwide government dictat – based on a report put out in 1994 – states that that we should consume no more than 6g per day. Some countries stipulate an even stricter 5g. At such a very specific grammage, one would assume there must be some equally specific evidence guiding this.

Surprise! (or maybe no surprise), there is none. And how, in fact, could there be? How could such a particular amount of salt possibly be ‘correct’ for all adults in general? A tiny person of 50kg should consume the same amount of salt as a tall and wide 120kg bruiser? Even more silly is the notion that we could actually follow this advice (if it were correct).

There is good evidence for higher risk of disease and mortality when salt intake is too low. And guess what, there’s no real no evidence for ‘high salt’ intake causing higher mortality

‘Watch your salt intake’ is the usual way it’s put. Well, how? Do you have any idea at all – I mean AT ALL – of how many grams of salt you eat in a day? Of course not. The only way you could know this would be by only eating from packaged foods with nutritional lists on them, never eating out, and weighing all the salt you use at home on a pharmaceutical grade scale. Now, unless you have the time to get into Breaking Bad mode every time you cook, I think we can agree that the entire thing is laughable.

If you don’t know how much you’re taking in, then by how much should you lower your intake, given that the advised amount is so very specific? Is there such a thing as too little salt? According to mainstream thinking, not really. But this is dangerous talk. There is good evidence for higher risk of disease and mortality when salt intake is too low. And guess what, there’s no real no evidence for ‘high salt’ intake causing higher mortality.

Association is not causation. Ambulances are associated with road accidents. They do not cause them. Your body can get rid of excess salt, if your kidneys are healthy, but it absolutely cannot manufacture it. And it’s not just the sodium you need. Salt – NaCl – is actually more chloride than it is sodium, and chloride deficiency is a real thing.

Low-sodium salt is perhaps the most ridiculous end-point of the salt neurosis. What exactly is low-sodium salt? Seeing as salt itself cannot contain less sodium and still be salt, it must be something else altogether. It is – that traditional gastronomic delight – potassium chloride.

And why, unless you have a known potassium deficiency, should that better for you? It certainly can’t be the taste, which is every bit as bad as the idea.  

SALTY READS

For some sense around salt, read: 10 things to be aware of by Zoe Harcombe’s and Dr Malcolm Kendrick’s reasoning on why salt is good for you. 

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