For years, the federal government has advised Americans that they are eating too much salt, and that this excess contributes yearly to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
But unknown to many shoppers urged to buy foods that are “low sodium” and “low salt,” this longstanding warning has come under assault by scientists who say that typical American salt consumption is without risk. Moreover, according to studies published in recent years by pillars of the medical community, the low levels of salt recommended by the government might actually be dangerous.
“There is no longer any valid basis for the current salt guidelines,” said Andrew Mente, a professor at McMaster University in Ontario and one of the researchers involved in a major study published last year by the New England Journal of Medicine. “So why are we still scaring people about salt?”
But the debate over dietary salt is among the most contentious in the field of nutrition, and other scientists, including the leadership of the American Heart Association, continue to support the decades-old warning. The result is that as the federal government prepares its influential Dietary Guidelines for 2015, bureaucrats confront a quandary: They must either retract one of their oldest dietary commandments - or overlook these prominent new doubts.