Asked which is more of a health risk, a diet too low or too high in sodium, Bergquist replies, "While a few studies have raised concern that a very low sodium diet may be harmful in certain sick groups of people, the bigger problem is that we are consuming too much salt. The current average consumption of 3,400 mg a day, roughly 1.5 teaspoons, raises blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke."
So just how much salt is necessary to survive? Is there a minimum and a maximum amount?
"We can't live without salt," says Bergquist. "We need a minimum amount for our nerves and muscles to function, and to maintain our fluid balance. There isn't a clear minimum, but it is likely around 200 mg, which is many-fold below the average daily intake."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. And the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day with a bare minimum of 200 mg to 500 mg daily for the average adult. However, Bergquist suggests that children under 4 years old and people over age 51 should reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day.
Concerning a safe daily parameter, Bergquist admits there's a lot of debate about what's considered a healthy range of salt consumption. "The FDA, AHA and Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 2,300 mg a day. The Institute of Medicine, on the other hand, doesn't feel that there is enough evidence that topping out salt intake below 2,300 mg a day either harms or improves cardiovascular outcomes and all-cause mortality."
"Seventy-five to eighty percent of the salt we eat comes from processed food," says Bergquist. "So reducing or avoiding processed and fast food is a good place to start for lowering sodium intake."
Given these numbers, people with hypertension will be heartened to know that it is possible to lower blood pressure by consuming less salt.