Don't Let the Salt Headlines Fool You

Proponents of "the less salt, the better" mantra are celebrating...

"High-salt diet kills off good gut bacteria" is a headline we're seeing everywhere this week, thanks to a recently released study.

We've long triumphed the health benefits of having salt in your diet, despite the mainstream health media telling you to cut your salt intake.

We knew we needed to take a look at this latest news.

The brand-new study from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, Germany found that a high-salt diet kills bacteria called Lactobacillus.

This genre of bacteria has many species, but these "good" bacteria live in our gut. Lactobacillus make something called lactic acid, which helps kill any "bad" bacteria that enter our gut.

Every day, trillions of these little bugs help reduce diarrhea and improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. They also fight off infections and even reduce seasonal allergy symptoms.

But unknowingly, we kill off these useful bugs with our terrible dietary choices.

And now we understand why...

The researchers started with mice. They found that the mice with a high-salt diet not only had higher blood pressure and inflammation... all of the Lactobacillus in their guts died.

But then these mice got a probiotic to reintroduce the healthy bacteria. And with the bacteria back, their inflammation lowered, as did their blood pressure.

Now, we usually don't get too excited by mouse studies, but here's why we like this one: Researchers then tested the same theory on a small group of humans.

They took a dozen healthy volunteers and had them double their salt intake for two weeks. At the end of the study, just about all of the volunteers had higher blood pressure, more inflammation markers, and... no sign of Lactobacillus, despite having these bacteria at the start of the study.

The human volunteers ate an additional 3,000 mg of salt, making it about 5,500 mg a day. The recommended average is about 2,300 mg per day.

Many processed foods have heaping amounts of salt, sometimes in surprising places. Take a look:

  • One can of Coca-Cola: 45 mg
  • One slice of Kraft American cheese: 200 mg
  • One can of V8 "Low Sodium" juice: 200 mg
  • One 1.5-oz bag of Lay's chips: 250 mg
  • One cup of Raisin Bran: 210 mg
  • One slice of Oscar Mayer deli ham: 510 mg
  • Two slices of Pepperidge Farm rye and pumpernickel swirl bread: 400 mg
  • One can of Campbell's condensed chicken noodle soup: 2,225 mg
  • Quiznos Italian 12-inch sandwich: 4,140 mg
  • P.F. Chang's spare ribs: 6,430 mg

So even just a sandwich you made at home could add up to 2,130mg, or nearly your entire recommended daily intake. Add a bag of chips and a can of soda to that mix and you're at 2,425 mg for one single meal.

This study is fueling so-called "experts" telling you to get rid of the salt in your diet.

Although this study shows what happens with too much salt in our diet, it fails to show that too little is also dangerous. We know that too little salt results in hyponatremia, which leads to muscle cramps, dizziness, and falls, which can be fatal as we get older. What's more, too little salt also increases blood pressure.

Salt and its harmful effects show up statistically on a U-shaped curve, also called the "Goldilocks" curve. In other words, too much is bad and too little is bad.

You want to hit the sweet spot in the middle. But the amount that's "too much" isn't as clear as the "experts" would have you believe.

For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine found that modest amounts of salt in your diet aren't harmful. In fact, they saw that death rates were lowest in people getting between 1,500 mg and 2,300 mg of salt per day, at 30.7%. The death rate was 33.8% in people consuming less than 1,500 mg and 35.2% in people consuming more than 2,300 mg.

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In other words, getting a moderate amount of salt led to the best health outcomes. So, try to aim for this middle group – between 1,500 mg and 2,300 mg.

A better takeaway from this new study is simple: Don't eat processed foods. We've warned you for years about the dangers of ultra-processed foods. Ultra-processed essentially means any pre-packaged or sugary foods – including frozen meals, chips, soda, and microwavable snacks. It also includes soda drinks.

As we reported earlier this year, a French study showed that a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the participants' diet aligned with a 12% higher risk of cancer.

Worse, the average American consumes about 60% of their diet in ultra-processed foods. That means we're all putting ourselves in danger simply by eating these foods. They're loaded with preservatives, fake sugars, and salt. We know consuming these foods leads to increased inflammation. Inflammation leads to things like heart attacks and type 2 diabetes.

Eat whole, natural foods as much as you can. And if you do go for processed foods, check the label for sodium content. Remember, some is OK, but too much or too little isn't. Even better: Do what I do and enjoy probiotic-rich foods to replenish your Lactobacillus. Fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi are great sources, or you might opt for a good probiotic in pill form. Look for one with multiple strains in pill form (not gummies) for the best results.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
Baltimore, Maryland
June 12, 2018v