Health & Nutrition Corner: New Views on Salt – Not the Villain Many People Imagine

Written by Dr. Andrew Craig, APC Health Consultant

You would think from the media coverage it gets and the emphasis some nutritional policy makers put on it, that salt was a first cousin of plutonium: dangerous in even small quantities and so best avoided by anyone who wants to stay healthy. That would be wrong on several counts, as the latest evidence review from the US Institute of Medicine points out. It concludes, not surprisingly, that many people still consume too much salt in their diets (especially from processed meats, baked goods, “ready meals” and take-away foods), but it does not cast salt as a villain to be shunned.

What it does say is that there are simple and easy ways to reduce salt intake but that people should not overdo it. Very importantly, the IOM review makes the point that trying to go “too low” in reducing salt intake is potentially dangerous for some groups and can increase their risks of cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

So, what is the current state of play about salt recommendations and what does this have to do with salted snack peanuts? Despite lots of advice about the need to reduce sodium intake (multiply sodium by 2.5 to get the amount of “salt” as you might see it on a label), Canadians still consume an average of 3,400 milligrams a day (8.5 grams of salt). This is above the current federal guideline of 2,300 milligrams (5.75 grams of salt) or less daily for healthy adults (2012 Health Canada Nutrition & Healthy Eating). So most people only need to reduce intakes by less than three grams of salt per day to get close to the guidelines. That’s possible by making some simple changes in what people choose to eat most frequently.

Recently the Institute of Medicine reviewed 39 published studies about the benefits and risks of salt reduction. The respected medical journal, The Lancet, reported the conclusions in an editorial on May 25, 2013, saying: “…a very low salt intake might not be as beneficial as was previously thought, at least for those at increased risk of heart disease. Less than 2300 milligrams of salt daily could even increase some cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood lipids and insulin resistance, potentially triggering heart problems. Moreover, no evidence suggested a benefit of an ultra-low sodium intake (<1500 milligrams daily) in any population.”

After this IOM review, it is much clearer “how much sodium is too much” and also for the first time “how little sodium is possibly detrimental”. That’s where oil-roasted and salted snack peanuts come in. The American Heart Association recently awarded salted snack peanuts its “Heart Check” quality mark for their nutritional benefits, making the point that the salt levels of many types are below the qualifying threshold of 140 milligrams of sodium per serving. That’s less sodium than in equivalent amounts of bread. Most of the salt is on the surface which is why peanuts taste salty. And of course roasted peanuts without salt are naturally very low in sodium.

From a practical standpoint for the average consumer, what the IOM report and the AHA “Heart Check” taken together means is this: salted peanuts eaten as a snack food as part of an overall healthy diet are not significant salt sources in the average adult’s diet. They can be enjoyed for their taste and nutritional benefits without contributing to excessive salt intakes. And importantly, if people are thinking of ways to reduce excess salt, there is no reason to cut out the snack peanuts.

Source: Institute of Medicine, The Peanut Institute