Salt is often linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. We think that reducing our salt consumption will help us avoid these health risks. However, there may be a different substance that plays a more significant role in these health issues – sugar.
A study published in BMJ Open Heart argues that sugar consumption is significantly worse for blood pressure, hypertension and heart disease than salt. The author of the study, Dr. James DiNicolantonio, explained, ” Consuming sugar increases insulin levels, which activates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to increases in heart rate and blood pressure. The best thing people can do for their health is eat real whole food and avoid added sugars – worrying less about the salt.”
Furthermore, A UK study found that the three major causes of high blood pressure (excess of insulin, excess of leptin and excess of uric acid in the body) could be addressed by reducing excess fructose, not salt. In addition to this, a 2011 meta-analysis of seven studies involving more than 6,000 people found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attack, stroke or death.
Moreover, salt is actually crucial for our health. If you’re shaking salt on your meals, it’s important to make sure it’s an unrefined salt. These salts are in there natural form and have not been altered by man. This means that these salts contain beneficial trace minerals like magnesium, while regular table salt mainly consists of sodium and chloride, because it has been iodised. It’s the trace minerals in salt that help balance blood pressure. Unrefined salt also has other health benefits. Firstly, it is a natural antihistamine (inhibits the release of histamine which is responsible for the effects felt from allergic reactions); it also reduces circulating stress hormones, supporting thyroid function; your body needs natural salt to maintain the proper stomach pH; unrefined salt aids blood sugar control by improving insulin sensitivity.
Also, it isn’t just the levels of sodium in your body that contributes to cardiovascular risk, it’s the ratio of sodium to potassium. We’ve actually been eating lots of salt for the past 200 years. What has changed however, is our drastic decrease in potassium consumption. Vegetables are naturally high in potassium and low in sodium, so if you eat a whole food diet with an abundance of fresh veg, you’ll have a healthy sodium to potassium ratio.
What’s more, a low sodium diet may actually be unhealthy. In some people reducing sodium intake may increase blood pressure. Low sodium intake can also have other effects for your heart, including a higher heart rate and increased cardiac workload and stress.
Sugar is artificially added to most packaged foods and such sugar can have great effects in the body. In fact, some of the harmful effects attributed to salt may actually be due to sugar. Those who consume 25% or more of their daily calories from added sugars have an almost 3 fold greater risk of cardiac death compared to those consuming less than 10% of their calories from added sugars.
Lowering the sodium in prepared and processed has another big risk. Since sodium is an essential nutrient, our intake will generally match our physiologic demand. Eating low sodium foods will result in your body craving more of the food and this will almost certainly mean eating more added sugars. And eating more added sugars could result in more hypertension, heart disease and early death.
By Vishal Aksaj Rajan Thirupathirajan