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Oct 14, 2010 04:32 PM

Is sodium a major health risk? (split from Los Angeles board)


"I think a restaurant should be conscious of sodium, because it's a major health concern"

I'm sorry but sodium is most definitely not "a major health concern."

At best, sodium is only a health concern for SOME people.

  1. I kindly disagree with what you said about sodium not being a major health concern. About 50 million Americans aged 6 and older have high blood pressure.

    10 Replies
    1. re: wienermobile

      "About 50 million Americans aged 6 and older have high blood pressure."



      Understand something, while alot of people seem to have high blood pressure, there is no dispositive scientific evidence, nor epidemiological study, that suggests that high sodium intake actually causes hypertension.

      See here for a good roundup:

      And this from the Journal of American College of Nutrition:

      "High dietary sodium has been adduced as a cause of hypertension and its target organ damage for millennia; yet careful observations using sophisticated techniques have revealed only a weak relationship between sodium intake/excretion and blood pressure in the general population."

      Full article here:

      I'm not advocating people actually increase their sodium intake. Just saying that there is no need to make salt out to be this sort of dietary bogeyman that is the root cause of high blood pressure, stroke, hypertension, etc.

      And this provides a nice balanced approach to the issue of salt-hypertension connection:

      1. re: ipsedixit

        I'm sorry Ipsedixit, but sodium is one of the root causes of high blood pressure (hypertension) which in turn causes stroke, heart attack and renal disease. Without going into too much boring detail about the human body, blood pressure is regulated by a simple osmotic process which means any sodium consumed by a person directly affects their blood pressure. I am unsure as to why you are finding it difficult to find information on the link between sodium and blood pressure as it is a basic human physiological process. I can also confidently say that as an RN working on a stroke unit the one common thing most of our patients have is high blood pressure due to poor dietary choices - a diet too high in sodium. Sodium intake is something EVERYONE should be aware of - whether you choose to or not is up to you.

        1. re: TheHuntress

          The instant point is that although the hypothesis that sodium causes high blood pressure is widely accepted, the experiments conducted to prove the idea have generally failed to do so. Your experiences do support the notion that poor food/lifestyle choices have adverse health consequences, but deeming sodium the culprit is based upon little more than assumption. At some point the hypothesis should be reexamined, or at a minimum significantly refined. There are myriad variations worthy of exploration and we would all benefit from a better understanding of the issue.

          1. re: TheHuntress

            >>"I'm sorry Ipsedixit, but sodium is one of the root causes of high blood pressure (hypertension) which in turn causes stroke, heart attack and renal disease. "<<

            Far too many medical professionals make sweeping statements like "salt causes high blood pressure" and expect people to believe those statements just because they were made by a medical professional.

            What's especially amusing in this context is that there's a name for the logical fallacy of assuming the truth of a statement because of the status of the speaker. In Latin, that fallacy is called "argumentum ad verecundiam," or, alternatively, "ipse dixit."

            The reality of the matter is that researchers have tried and failed to establish a causal relationship between sodium intake and hypertension. Anecdotal evidence cannot change this simple fact.

            1. re: alanbarnes

              What's especially amusing in this context is that there's a name for the logical fallacy of assuming the truth of a statement because of the status of the speaker. In Latin, that fallacy is called "argumentum ad verecundiam," or, alternatively, "ipse dixit."

              Amusing, alan?

              That might be the understatement of the year.

              I find it totally Kafka-esque in this context.

            2. re: TheHuntress

              Acutally, no. At best, sodium-sensitive hypertension is a distinct minority within the larger group of people who have hypertension. Most doctors simply are lazy and don't test for sodium sensitivity (in fact, it seems most doctors don't even realize the studies on sodium sensitivity and hypertension don't warrant a blanket statement about the relationship). Public health authorities use sodium as a proxy for prepared foods that drive obesity, so they tend to be keen to elide distinctions in this regard.

          2. re: wienermobile

            groan. are we back on this merry-go-round again? some of us believe it's an issue, others don't. can we leave it at that and move on?

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                Oh yeah? I like to tip extra when the server double salts my food, provided I'm given extra carbs with it, especially as I talk on my cell phone while my kids are running all over the place.;-)

              1. re: sushigirlie

                Please explain.

                Your link to the subsection in wiki for sodium begins with the following:

                "Extreme care is required in handling elemental/metallic sodium. Sodium is potentially explosive in water (depending on quantity), and it is rapidly converted to sodium hydroxide on contact with moisture and sodium hydroxide is a corrosive substance. The powdered form may combust spontaneously in air or oxygen. Sodium must be stored either in an inert (oxygen and moisture free) atmosphere (such as nitrogen or argon), or under a liquid hydrocarbon such as mineral oil or kerosene."

                Are you saying you're worried that the sodium in foods served by restaurants will burn a hole through your esophagus, and then maybe your small and large intestines (if it makes it that far)?

                Gosh if that's true I better go and fish out my chicken that I've been brining in a salt-water solution before it disintigrates into a pile of pixie dust.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  One of the greatest events in high-school chem lab is when the instructor places a small piece of elemental sodium on a paper towel and then allows it to sink slowly into a container of water. It's where the word "kablooey" comes from. (Or is it "psss@$@#!tttt"?)

                  Getting back to the Wikipedia quote, here's something more relevant:

                  "Hypertension (high blood pressure): 'Since 1994, the evidence of an association between dietary salt intakes and blood pressure has increased. The data have been consistent in various study populations and across the age range in adults.'[36] A large scale study from 2007 has shown that people with high-normal blood pressure who significantly reduced the amount of salt in their diet decreased their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by 25% over the following 10 to 15 years. Their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease decreased by 20%.[37]"

                  Taken together with your dueling quotation, ipsedixit, I think the matter is now completely cleared up. ;-D


                  1. re: Harry Niletti

                    Association isn't even close to demonstrating causation. Maybe it's the chips and junk food carrying the salt that was doing the damage?

                    1. re: mcf

                      Exactly. Correlations are important things to look for and consider, but correlation does not equate to causation.

                      People who have high blood pressure might want to consider reducing their salt intake. That's not the same thing as saying that people who don't have problems with blood pressure should restrict salt intake.

                      Then there's the whole cholesterol thing. Something like 1/3rd of people in general end up with high cholesterol.

                      OF THESE, only a little less than 1/3rd can modify their cholesterol by changing their diet.

                      That means that something in the neighborhood of 10% of the American population need to watch their cholesterol intake for health reasons. Yet we have been inundated with warnings about cholesterol intake.

                      BTW, increased exercise has a far bigger impact on cholesterol levels in nearly all adults, both those with elevated cholesterol/triglycerides and those with good to normal levels. Exercise raises your HDL and lowers your LDL as well as lowering triglycerides, yet the push to exercise is not nearly as prominent as the whole "cholesterol is bad for you" thing. Eggs and milk sure get a bad rap from this kind of thinking.

                      What it boils down to is that in most instances, it isn't "fat intake". It isn't "cholesterol intake". It isn't "salt intake" that's the culprit in causing our health problems. Most of the time, it's actually a lack of sufficient exercise coupled with those extra pounds so many of us carry around with us.

                      My son is 26 and came home with test results showing high triglycerides and low HDL, a bad combination. He's not overweight by any stretch of the imagination, but he's not particularly active. All he needs to do is get on a bike and ride for half an hour 5 times a week, or a treadmill, or anything aerobic that will get his blood pumping and his heart rate up into that training zone. I doubt he's going to do it though.

                      I'm severely anemic right now which means I get short of breath and exhausted with very little exertion. Maybe if I start hitting the gym even for 5 minutes a day it'll stir him to do something for himself as well. I don't know. The kid's a fiend about trans-fat and eats almost no meat, but exercise? Why is exercise such a bugaboo for us ugly Americans?


                    2. re: Harry Niletti

                      I remember that chem lab class quite well. The old-as-dirt nun got a tad confused and put the HUGE chunk of sodium in the glass beaker instead of the sliver. "Kablooey" indeed. We all went to the ER. AND JFK was assassinated that day.

                    3. re: ipsedixit

                      You can feel it burn your tongue if you eat too much. That stuff doesn't belong anywhere near our bodies. Back in the state of nature there was nobody collecting salt. People just ate good, natural foods and they didn't get cancer and heart disease.

                      1. re: sushigirlie

                        "That stuff doesn't belong anywhere near our bodies."

                        I guess the sodium channels in our cell membrane walls are utterly useless then.

                        1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                          Try to live without enough of it; you can't.

                        2. re: sushigirlie

                          "You can feel it burn your tongue if you eat too much. That stuff doesn't belong anywhere near our bodies. Back in the state of nature there was nobody collecting salt. People just ate good, natural foods and they didn't get cancer and heart disease."

                          Since you used wiki, I'll speak your language then.

                          Click on this link which is titled "essential nutrients" and if you scroll down to the part labeled "dietary minerals" (conveniently permalinked here for you: ), lo and behold, what do you find listed -- wait for it -- why, yes, it's (gasp!) sodium!

                          Somebody alert the wiki editors, a rogue author has gone in and vandalized the information under "Essential nutrient" to include false information. Danger! Danger!

                          1. re: sushigirlie

                            False. How do you think meat was preserved "in nature" - on the frontier?

                            1. re: sushigirlie

                              Humans have mined, collected and used salt for thousands of years. Salt has been a basic trade good in every human culture. Animals (state of nature) find salt licks and frequent them. Salt is often supplied to cattle herds to supply this essential nutrient.

                              We may not need as much salt as the modern American diet supplies, but we do need salt.

                              1. re: meatn3

                                Have you never heard of the term, "Worth his salt"? Early trade routes (bronze age and earlier) were founded based on the trade of salt. In Western Africa and the Sahara, salt was traded for gold on a pound-for-pound basis. Then there is this old folk tale:

                                There was an old king who one day asked his three daughters one by one if they loved him.

                                The first daughter replied that she loved her father as much as she loved gold.

                                The second, that she loved him as much as she loved silver.

                                Finally the youngest daughter replied, “Father, I love you as much as I love salt.”

                                The king flew into a rage that the youngest girl would compare him to something so common, base, and unkingly as SALT. In a fit of rage he banished the youngest daughter from his presence.

                                The youngest girl wandered the countryside until her fine gown was reduced to rags and she had grown thin with care and hunger. Eventually she found herself once again in the city of royal residence. She sought and was given a job in the kitchens there. No one recognized this thin waif in rags as the youngest royal princess. She worked hard and soon had worked her way up from scullery maid to become one of the undercooks. Soon the king's birthday came around, and the young princess was made responsible for the final seasoning of the king's food. She cooked for her father with diligence and care, using many fine herbs and spices - but no salt. Each dish was sent out in its turn - without salt.

                                As the king tasted each dish, he found it to be somehow bland and lacking in the full flavor he expected. Gradually he came to realize what was missing from each dish - salt. And he found also that his days since he had banished his youngest daughter had also been lacking something - he missed the love and care of his youngest daughter.

                                At last the king cried, in anguished realization, "How I regret my hasty words and actions! For I know now, my youngest daughter loved me best of all, and I miss her as much as I miss salt!"

                                The girl then rushed to her father and revealed herself. The king realized his error and welcomed her back into his household, and he never did without his youngest daughter - or salt - again.

                                1. re: ZenSojourner

                                  i think Meatn3 is saying the same thing as yourself. the cultural importance of salt in most cultures is undeniable, and the use of salt in a variety of religious and spiritual contexts is worth study. finishing a preparation with salt before serving it to guests or family was at one time considered part of making the food itself spiritually pure and nourishing to the soul as well as the body.

                                  the words salt and salary share the same root-- roman legionaries were paid in salt because it was recognized to be a universally valuable and life-sustaining commodity in the ancient world.

                                  salt is an essential part of food preservation, including heritage charcuterie, cheesemaking/dairy and pickling, and small, correct amounts of salt are essential for recipe performance in baking. eliminating the use of salt in cooking is impossible without the wholesale elimination of many/most important ethnic and national cuisines. the war on salt directly and widely attacks people's cultural heritage and will lead to the greater use of harmful synthetic and chemical preservatives in food. it is simply an appallingly misguided effort put forth by junk science, and the widespread acceptance of the salt=bad mantra leads to other medical and neurological problems, very widespread especially in the elderly population. folks would have better health and far better enjoyment of life and cultural diversity if they'd eat well and widely, get physical activity, and kick the junk science obsession with sodium to the curb.

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    Sorry, was trying to reply to sushigirl. Lately it seems I get into the wrong place in these threads somehow!

                              2. re: sushigirlie

                                Salt is a key ingredient in food preservation and humans have been collecting it for centuries, if not much longer. I don't disagree that they didn't get cancer or heart disease, but they also didn't live long enough for those to really be a factor. They were much more likely to die from diseases and injuries that are a mere inconvenience today.

                                You will die without sodium. Some of the worst migraines I've ever had have been a result of electrolyte loss/dehydration and just trying to recover with water. Right before the migraine came on, I had a huge craving for salt- not because I am a junk food addict, but because I needed it!

                                1. re: queencru

                                  Oops, should have read your post first!

                                2. re: sushigirlie

                                  They didn't live long enough to die of cancer or heart disease. Before antibiotics and vaccines, infectious diseases were what killed people, and they died a lot younger than people do today.

                                  1. re: sushigirlie

                                    Okay, go ahead and tell these people that you were just making a joke.

                                    1. re: sushigirlie

                                      surely salt has been a traded item for centuries?

                                      Our ancestors tended not to live as long as we did and whilst it may be a combination of factors ..................

                                      1. re: smartie

                                        Come to think of it, I can think of a LOT of things that burn your tongue if you eat them.


                                        etc etc etc

                                        It was salt trade that drove the earliest traders. Eventually other spices did their part to keep trade routes active. Without salt, we would die. Without spices, we would just WISH to die, LOL!

                                      2. re: sushigirlie

                                        People didn't get cancer and heart disease because they were usually dead by 35

                                        1. re: sushigirlie

                                          read the book Salt: a world history by Mark Kurlansky. Salt is one of the driving forces of civilization.

                                          and just as a BTW, people did collect salt "back in the state of nature" (whatever that means - are we not part of nature anymore?) - and animals still gather at salt licks.

                                          all life comes from the sea, salt water is essential to life. blood is basically sea water with stuff in it. as i said elsewhere our bodies are basically sacs for carrying seawater. no salt = no life

                                      3. re: sushigirlie

                                        If you think sodium is scary, you should really educate yourself on the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          funny. i was just thinking about this yesterday

                                          1. re: thew

                                            Oh no! I use that stuff all the time when I run out of sea salt ...

                                          2. re: alanbarnes

                                            Yeah, you know, now that I think about it, every person I know who has died, gotten cancer, been sick, has ingested that. Scary.

                                              1. re: thew

                                                I'm stocking up just in case the government finally gets wise and cracks down.

                                                1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                  I think the plan is to contaminate the street supply with flouride. Brings out the Birchers.

                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                    Gasp! And the CHLORINE threat! Does no one realize how very real that threat is?

                                                2. re: chowser

                                                  go ahead - go find yourself an MSDS for water and read it. Dare you.

                                            1. go further back. our bodies are basically sacs for carrying seawater around. our blood is salt water. without salt we would die. period.

                                              saying that people with high blood pressure can reduce risks by reducing salt intake is not the same thing as saying high salt intake causes high blood pressure

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: thew

                                                "saying that people with high blood pressure can reduce risks by reducing salt intake is not the same thing as saying high salt intake causes high blood pressure"

                                                Exactly. I'm a salt addict and my bp is 90/60 on a good day. Years ago, I bought into the whole reduce your sodium thing and food just wasn't as good. Given that I work out and sweat a lot, there really was no good reason for me to do that and I wasted a few good years on bleah food.

                                              2. If it tastes better with salt (and just about everything except some desserts do) then put salt in it. If you're concerned about a healthy diet, go to a health-oriented (spit out your food) restaurant.

                                                But, the whole discussion is rather moot, isn't it? The issue with Americans and sodium doesn't stem from high/mid end restaurants, but from processed foods, which use sodium as a preservative, and fast food places. Even then, it's about the consumer making the right decisions.

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: ediblover

                                                  "But, the whole discussion is rather moot, isn't it? The issue with Americans and sodium doesn't stem from high/mid end restaurants, but from processed foods ..."

                                                  Actually, you'd be surprised how much salt non fast-food restaurants use.

                                                  Salt and butter are a panacea for restaurants (and restaurant profits). Put enough salt and butter on an old tough piece of fish, and a creative chef can probably put it on a menu and move the thing ... y'know what they say about lipstick and pigs, right?

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    Agreed re: the salt content at non-fast food restaurants. I've had meals at high-end places that left me dry-mouthed and thirsty for 24 hours afterwards. Also I've been shocked at the amount of salt in some published restaurant recipes. And don't get me started on the oil and butter thing . . . especially on perfectly lovely vegetables . . .

                                                    1. re: cookie monster

                                                      Over-salting is a rarity (In my experience), since it's one of those unforgivable mistakes. Oil/butter make cooked vegetables better by adding a smooth texture and an extra layer of flavor. In some cases (artichokes) it's practically mandatory to add butter. On trying to cover up "bad" food, no respectable kitchen would try to cover up a bad protein with salt/fat/sauce. The bottom line is for restaurants to create delicious food.

                                                      Impact - Most of us (And certainly not the majority of Americans) don't eat at expensive restaurants often (jealous of you if you do). Even at 2-3 times a week, it won't have a large impact on your health. What you eat/make at home is the biggest factor in sodium consumption.

                                                      Overall, this topic is a lot like the scare/blame over HFCS. It's not it that's making people overweight, but people consuming too much calories. Salt isn't to blame - People that don't control its intake are. Everyone knows that moderation and exercise are the two keys to good health, but most people seem to be more interested in pointing fingers.

                                                      1. re: ediblover

                                                        No, it's not "over-salting". That's different than a dish having too much sodium.

                                                        For example, typical entree at Olive Garden -- lets take Spaghetti and Meatballs -- has something like 2200mg of sodium, which is (according to the FDA) 2400mg. So it's not that a dish is "over-salted" such that it tastes too much of salt, but rather that the dish as it is prepared contains too much sodium.

                                                        Re: covering up food.

                                                        You'd be surprised at how often restaurants cover up or mask bad or old food with salt and butter. Having grown up in restaurants and worked my way through college and grad school by working in kitchens, I can personally attest to this.

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          I (and safe to say many) don't consider chains as high/mid level restaurant. If you go to a place like Olive Garden or Applebee's, you pretty much walk into the door knowing you're going to get unhealthy and substandard food. But, even if you do, it's still only for limited times.

                                                          I love pizza, and it isn't unusual for me to down a large pie alone. I'm perfectly aware of the calories and sodium in the darn thing. But, eating it isn't going to affect my health in a big way (Unless I choke on it). Not when I eat a very healthy diet and exercise 90 minute a day during the weekdays.

                                                          As with most "bad" foods, I see salt as just another scapegoat for the irresponsible.

                                                    2. re: ipsedixit

                                                      Salt reduction right now is the standard of care for patients with heart disease and liver disease.

                                                      I think the daily limit for that of liver disease is 2g/day, and I'm not quite sure the one for heart.

                                                      1. re: xIcewind

                                                        4g, generally, but 2g in persons with significant salt sensitivity.


                                                  2. You've got it exactly right. I've looked into this. It's true that *some* people are particularly sensitive to sodium--tho that does not necessarily mean that intake of salt will increase their BP. The whole idea that "dietary salt increases BP in all or most people" has been oversold and ttbomk is supported only mildly.

                                                    Not only that, but when docs repeat the mantra "throw away the salt shaker", that's really not great advice for those who ARE sensitive--since there is far more salt in processed foods of all kinds, than you typically take in from the salt shaker.

                                                    One reason docs tell people "throw away the salt shaker" is that it takes far less time, and energy, to say that, than to go into a longer dissertation about testing yourself for salt sensitivity, where the sale is found, etc.