The optimal amount of daily sodium intake is considerably more than the teaspoon-a-day usually recommended, according to a June 2 opinion article in The Wall Street Journal written by Dr. Michael Alderman, emeritus professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City, and Dr. David McCarron, a private practice physician in Portland, Oregon. This is a welcomed message by many in the food community, including meat and poultry processors, who rely on sodium-containing ingredients for a wide array of functions. This includes food safety, flavor and texture development, and shelf life.

Dietary guidelines often change, but “restrict your salt intake” has resisted the advances of science, according to the authors. The National Academy of Medicine recently reiterated its advice to limit daily sodium intake to 2,300 mg (a little over a teaspoon of salt), or 1,500 mg for those at risk of cardiovascular disease. And authors of a May 29 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine agree with these recommendations. They called for the Food and Drug Administration to impose voluntary sodium limits on nearly 150 food categories, including most meat and poultry products as well as analogs.

Alderman and McCarron believe these recommendations ignore scientific developments and may be harmful to health. In March 2019, the two published an article in the Lancet summarizing six decades of research on sodium intake in more than a million people worldwide. They found the sodium “sweet spot” — the intake range associated with the lowest risk of disease and the longest life expectancy — to be between 3,000 and 5,000 mg a day, considerably higher than the usual recommendations. Their research further showed that once daily sodium consumption falls below 3,200 mg, all-cause mortality increases, and life expectancy decreases dramatically.

They explain that adequate sodium is crucial for many biological processes. This includes nerve conduction, muscle contraction and sustaining the fluid balance necessary to assure blood flow and deliver nutrients and oxygen to every cell in the body.

“If we consume too little sodium, our kidneys will go to extremes to conserve it. If we consume too much, it is eliminated through our skin, intestines and kidneys. You’re far likelier to die from failure to maintain this precise control than from the modest impact salt may have on your blood pressure,” the two wrote.

If effectively communicated sodium-intake recommendations could change. This would eliminate the burden many meat and poultry companies face as they strive to reduce sodium levels in new products.