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Salt might be innocent in our heart health epidemic

26 April, 2018
Salt might be innocent in our heart health epidemic

Sorting grains of truth

“Eat less salt” – it’s a health recommendation that’s been endlessly repeated and ignored with every bite of bacon, sausage, breads, cereals, and sprinkle over tonight’s choice of pub-grub.

While we know eating fresh fruit and vegetables, or trying to emulate the Mediterranean diet, offers us the best dietary journey to good heart health, our old enemy sodium may make an unexpected comeback to grace.

Why do we need salt?

Notice the advice has always been to consume less salt, rather than eradicating it from our diets.

That’s because sodium (that comes from salt) is necessary for us to function – salt helps the body control fluid balance, enables our nerves to send signals, and allows our muscles to function. The kidneys regulate how much salt and fluid you excrete, depending on your levels of hydration. During dehydration, for example, the kidneys hold onto fluids while excreting more sodium.

Why are we consuming so much salt?

Australia’s Heart Foundation recommends a daily intake of under 5g of salt – just under one teaspoon. This might be easy to control when you’re grinding some over a steak, but not so easy when it comes to pre-packaged foods.

Breads, for instance, can contain a higher salt content than original/salted chips. It’s also found in high quantities in goods that are bottled or canned, like vegetables, olives, pickled goods, and pasta sauces.

This hidden salt content is probably contributing to the fact that Australian men eat roughly twice the recommended amount of salt.

Why is salt bad for your heart?

Nearly every major authority regarding nutrition and heart health recommends we keep to the recommended guidelines of sodium consumption. This is because the high intake of sodium has been correlated with high blood pressure, a key risk factor for heart attacks and CVD.

But this might not be true.

Exactly how salt causes hypertension and high blood pressure is yet an unresolved mystery. It’s further complicated by other lifestyle factors that contribute to high blood pressure, like sedentary living and obesity.

A study published on April 1 2017 (we checked – it’s not an April Fools) seems to reveal more about this conundrum. As part of a much larger longitudinal study (which has a fascinating history which you can read about here), the blood pressure of 2632 subjects was measured over a period of 16 years.

What they found is fascinating:

Subjects low in potassium and sodium intake had higher blood pressure than those with higher intake of both potassium and sodium.

Further, results were similar where there was a higher intake of sodium along with other minerals like calcium and magnesium.

Read the study hereLow Sodium Intakes are Not Associated with Lower Blood Pressure Levels among Framingham Offspring Study Adults  

What should you eat for good heart health?

As the story of sodium and your heart continues to unfold, we can take for granted that increasing our good mineral intake is better for overall health. If you’re looking to get more potassium, calcium and magnesium in your diet, consider eating more:


Found in

  • Leafy greens
  • Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant
  • Root veges like kumera, potato and carrots
  • Avocado, bananas, apples
  • Beans


  • Tofu
  • Sardines
  • Yoghurt, milk and cheese


  • Leafy greens
  • Lentils, chickpeas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Wholegrain
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach

Want to know more?

If you’re a member of CBHS, there are a range of ways you can use your health insurance to look after your heart health. If you think you’re at risk or are experiencing heart health problems, you might be eligible for our Better Living Programs. The Better Living Programs can also provide advice on diet and nutrition. 


Salt consumption by Australian adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Australian salt intake twice the WHO recommended level

Unpack the salt

How does salt retention raise blood pressure?

Maintaining water balance

Fluid and Electrolyte Balance

Low Sodium Intakes are Not Associated with Lower Blood Pressure Levels among Framingham Offspring Study Adults  

Health Direct - Potassium

Health Direct - Calcium

Health Direct – Magnesium


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. 

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