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Sodium, Salt, and High Blood Pressure May 11, 2009

Posted by federalist in Healthcare, Regulation.

Excessive consumption of sodium can raise blood pressure.  High blood pressure causes all sorts of expensive and deadly diseases.

Leave it to Bloomberg’s New York City to jump in at this point and conclude that we need government action to reduce sodium in everyone’s diet.

Of course, it’s not that simple.  But it is interesting.  I contacted the CDC, FDA, and NYC Health Department to compile and confirm the following information.

First of all, extreme imbalances of any electrolyte — high or low — can cause health problems, including permanent organ damage and death.  There is no question that on average Americans consume more sodium than is nutritionally necessary.  It is also medically proper for people with hypertension to reduce their intake of sodium as a first step to lower their blood pressure.  But if you don’t have high blood pressure there is no reason to specifically worry about your sodium intake.  (Although you may notice that if you stick to a healthy diet you are avoiding a lot of junk foods with elevated sodium content.)

Health officials seem to warn interchangeably about excess “sodium” and “salt.”  But it’s the sodium that matters, and there are salts in your diet that do not contain sodium.  Yes, table salt is conventionally sodium chloride, and sodium chloride does happen to be the primary source of sodium in human diets.  But it’s not the only one: you probably also regularly consume sodium bicarbonate and sodium nitrate.  When you look at the FDA nutrition label for a food, the “sodium” line is supposed to list the entire mass of elemental sodium regardless of what molecules it is bound up in.



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