A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Should I completely eliminate salt from my diet?

May 27, 1983

Dear Cecil:

I think I may be dying--more quickly, that is, than is strictly necessary. I'm trying to eliminate most salt from my diet, including the salt in processed foods. The problem is that commercially produced salt, as I understand it, is the only source of that elusive mineral, iodine. If I cut out the salt altogether, will some distant cousin of kwashiorkor cripple my as yet youthful physique? Set my mind at rest, won't you please?

Cecil replies:

If you ask me, Reid, we've got far too many people with their minds at rest already. You don't want to totally eliminate salt from your diet, or you would expire horribly. You just want to cut down some--to between three and eight grams a day, according to the National Academy of Sciences (a teaspoon of salt is five grams). To avoid goiter, the thyroid condition associated with lack of iodine, you need about 150 micrograms of iodine per day, which you get from roughly one-third teaspoon of iodized salt. It's estimated that the average American consumes 10-15 grams of salt per day, and since excessive sodium intake has been linked with high blood pressure, cutting back is probably a good idea. But don't overdo it.

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