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Great debate may need to be taken with a pinch of salt


Great debate may need to be taken with a pinch of salt

Do you worry about adding too much salt to your meals? Is salt bad for you? KENDALL MORTON takes a fresh look at the salt debate.

Roman soldiers were paid in salt. We have words that derive from salt, such as salaries, salute and salvation.

It was a highly valued commodity.

Salt is made up of two minerals, sodium and chloride, bonded together. They are listed as essential minerals for human health. Salt enhances the flavour of foods.

Let’s talk about nutrition.

It’s common for older family members to eat smaller amounts of food. Their energy output is less. They may live alone and find preparing meals a bother. It’s easy to have a sandwich instead.

Dieticians Australia estimate that about 50 per cent of older Australians in aged care and in the community are either at risk of malnutrition or are malnourished.

The Australian Medical Association’s Position Statement on Nutrition 2018 says poor diet is a factor in one in five deaths around the world, and diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking.

Salt has been a contentious issue in the medical world for over a century.

In 1904,  two French doctors, Ambard and Beaujard, observed that six of their patients who had high blood pressure also ate liberal amounts of salt.

This led to the idea/hypothesis that high salt intake increases blood pressure. No randomised control studies were done at the time, but the idea stuck.

However other European doctors in the early 1900s argued restricted salt intake could lead to apathy, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps and vertigo.

In the older population, dizziness and vertigo can lead to falls, broken bones and hospitalisation.

In a review article in 1950, two authors went as far as to say, “sodium and chloride being virtually the cornerstones on which the mammalian biochemical structure is built, it is hardly surprising that exclusion of these items from the diet ultimately results in undesirable, or even catastrophic, consequences.”

In another twist, in the 1970s a researcher from the USA Lewis Dahl measured the blood pressure in rats that were given a diet with 500 grams of sodium a day. (this is equivalent to eating around 1200 grams of salt a day. The average salt intake in Australia is 9 grams a day.)

The rats developed high blood pressure.

This study became the basis of the American National Heart Foundation’s recommendation for low salt diets.

More recently researchers reviewed seven studies involving 6250 people and found no strong evidence that low salt intake lowered the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death regardless of whether or not they had normal or high blood pressure.

In his 2017 book The Salt Fix, cardiovascular research scientist Dr DiNicolantonio, concludes there has never been any sound scientific evidence to say that salt causes high blood pressure.

When you have 1½ teaspoons of salt a day, your body produces a group of hormones called natriuretic hormones.

These nine hormones improve heart and kidney function and vascular health.

Maintaining a good appetite and eating regular meals is key to ongoing health.

An adequate diet can help maintain energy, muscle mass and mental clarity. Adding salt may make meals more palatable and increase food intake.

 Kendall Morton is Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email

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