Here's What's Shakin' With Salt
But McCarron stands firm. "We have made too much of the issue of low
sodium diets helping reduce blood pressure, and in that process we have not
been talking to people about the issues that really matter," McCarron tells
WebMD. Those issues are weight, too much alcohol, and getting a balanced diet.
"We're not promoting the DASH diet, which has shown an effect that is
probably 10 times as powerful as reducing salt." The DASH diet includes
eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
"The problem is we started setting policy before we did the
science," says McCarron. "What happens is that you get policy and
education, and basically the bias is built-in. And then you get the data, and
then what do you do?"
"Sometimes science get brushed aside in the interest of politics,"
he says, noting that it is hard to turn the tide of public policy.
Despite their differences, both men can agree on one thing: the need for
Americans to adopt a healthier diet.
"I think the positive message, in terms of both blood pressure and
overall [heart] health, is people should pay attention to their overall
diet," says Kotchen, adding that it is "probably a mistake" to
focus exclusively on salt. He says we should avoid obesity, avoid eating too
much salt, and make sure we eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
McCarron agrees. "The data say the most important thing to do is get a
balanced diet," he says. "And we are doing a terrible job of that in
this country -- the evidence is staring at us, walking down the
Sometimes it's not so easy to cut back on salt. "Most of the salt in the
diet is hidden salt," says Kotchen. "It's not added from a salt shaker,
but it's in products. Baked products and processed foods are generally very
high in salt." He recommends that we look for sodium levels on food
As for whether those guidelines will be changed when the Nutrition Committee
meets next month, Kotchen says, "I suspect there will be no drastic change
in the sodium recommendation."
- The American Heart Association recommends a healthy adult consume no more
than six grams of salt each day. Research shows most Americans get about nine
grams of salt a day.
- Experts may disagree on the exact relationship between salt intake and
one's blood pressure and how to counsel patients about it, but many feel that
the importance of salt has been overemphasized.
- Experts agree that there are other important contributors to consider, such
as getting a balanced, low-fat diet that includes a lot of fruits and