Too little salt could pose health risks: experts

by Bryan Salvage
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CHICAGO – In recent years, studies and warnings about the dangers of consuming too much salt in one’s diet have flooded the media. But consuming too little salt also poses potential health risks, experts have warned. Efforts to curb salt intake should be gradual with the ultimate goal of achieving a healthy balance, they said.

"There is no shortage of data that says excess salt can be harmful, and that some individuals are more sensitive to its effects than others," said Edward Strickler, Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh, and one of several researchers discussing sodium intake at the 2010 Institute of Food Technologists (I.F.T.) Annual Meeting & Food Expo.

Too little salt, however, or eliminating or rapidly reducing salt in the daily diet can cause heart problems and fragile bones, particularly in athletes.

Although the optimal daily salt intake is 2,300 milligrams (about 1.5 teaspoons) per day, the average American ingests more than 3,500 milligrams – which is approximately 50% too much salt.

"There should be a good balance, making sure we're not having too much, but also making sure we're not ingesting too little," Mr. Strickler said.

There should be a gradual decrease in salt intake, according to the Institutes of Medicine (I.O.M.). Also, manufacturers should remove "gratuitous salt" from food products. According to I.O.M., 77% of salt is added in food processing. What’s more, the federal government should step-up public information efforts related to salt intake, the I.O.M. said.

One recent study revealed that 53% of consumers are concerned about their salt intake, up from 41% in 2009. But almost half of Americans do not how much salt intake is appropriate or healthy, said David B. Schmidt, president and chief executive officer of the International Food Information Council (I.F.I.C.). There is a "disconnect" between consumers and the "functional role of salt in food," Mr. Schmidt said.

Salt in food products provides nutrition, enhances taste and consistency, and can serve as a preservative and/or a leavening agent, said Richard Black, vice president of global nutrition at Kraft Foods.

Although decreasing salt levels in food products is challenging, and salt substitutes are expensive and can alter taste, "We have to be able to solve this problem," Mr. Black said. "We will and should be held accountable."
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