The New Sodium Guidelines – Should We Take Them With a Grain of Salt?

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that new voluntary guidelines regarding sodium consumption are coming soon.   Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day – mostly through processed and restaurant foods.  The FDA thinks sodium intake should be reduced in order to alleviate a variety of health conditions faced by Americans.

As a black woman, I am well aware that my race has higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity than other races.  Therefore, lower sodium levels are usually recommended for blacks with these health issues.  Groups like the American Heart Association and others also strongly recommend that everyone reduces his or her overall salt intake.

What troubles me, however, is the one-size-fits-all prescription that our government and others advocate.  An across-the-board sodium reduction for all Americans across the country may not be the best advice.

As a mom of two children, I know that salt is necessary and important for pregnant women.   Salt is the main way to get iodine to the thyroid gland, since our bodies do not naturally produce that element.  Since the 1920’s, salt producers started adding iodine to salt as a way of getting iodine into the food chain.  Pregnant women are at an additional risk of iodine deficiency because of increased thyroid hormone production, which growing babies in the womb need for brain development.  Additionally, breastfeeding moms need higher iodine intake as a necessary nutrient for infant growth.

A recent study conducted by the Institute of Medicine concluded that further reducing salt intake may increase health risks in certain groups. That means the potential imposition of new sodium regulations along the lines of existing federal dietary guidelines could actually put people at risk.  This is just another reason to be cautious of an across-the-board general sodium reduction.

Salt is also used as a preservative in foods and prevents bacteria growth.  Many industry experts also argue that it is inexpensive and indispensable to food manufacturers.  These same food manufacturers are shipping food not only across the United States, but worldwide, including many third world nations.  How will a reduction in sodium use affect food preparation, transportation, and other consumer costs?  As usual, my concerns are that these costs get passed down to families and consumers.

I am all for a reduction in sodium in our food, but a recommendation to reduce sodium intake for every person in America leaves me uneasy. We live in a big country with lots of different ethnic groups, body types, and health conditions.  Let people consult with their physicians, assess their own needs, and make a decision that is best for their own health and family.

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