Based on the health outcomes for many Americans, there is no good reason to cut sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines, according to a prestigious group convened by the government. Current dietary guidelines call for the consumption of less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, or a little more than half a teaspoon of salt. However, a new expert committee commissioned by the Institute of Medicine at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found no reason for anyone to aim for sodium levels below 2,300 milligrams a day.
The current guidelines were supposed to prevent heart attacks and strokes in people at risk, including anyone older than 50, blacks and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. More than half of the American population falls into one or more of these groups. Influential organizations like the American Heart Association have recommended that everyone, not just those at risk, should aim for that low sodium level. Almost all studies on salt and health outcomes conducted prior to 2005 relied on the fact that blood pressure often drops slightly when people consume less salt.
The committee reviewed new evidence that had been reported since the last such report was issued in 2005. Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee, said, “As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms.” The potential harms of lower salt consumption included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death. The committee did not specify an optimal amount of sodium or make any recommendations about how much people should consume. Dr. Strom said data on the health effects of sodium were too inconsistent for the committee to make a recommendation.