Most current guidelines recommend eating 2,300 mg per day, or less. Some even go as low as 1500 mg per day (4).
However, even though too much sodium causes problems, eating too little can be just as bad.
Here are 6 little-known dangers of restricting sodium too much.
1. Possible Increase in Insulin Resistance
One study of 152 healthy people found that insulin resistance increased after only 7 days on a low-sodium diet (5).
However, these studies varied in length, study population and degree of salt restriction, which may explain the differences in results.
Bottom Line: Low-sodium diets have been associated with increased insulin resistance, a condition that causes higher blood sugar and insulin levels. This may lead to type 2 diabetes and other serious diseases.
2. No Clear Benefit for Heart Disease
It is true that reducing sodium can reduce blood pressure.
However, blood pressure is only a risk factor for disease. What we really care about is hard end-points like heart attacks or death.
One study found that less than 3,000 mg of sodium per day is linked to an increased risk of dying from heart disease, including from heart attacks and strokes (14).
Disturbingly, another study reported a higher risk of dying from heart disease at the low sodium levels that many guidelines currently recommend (15).
In a 2011 review of controlled trials, reducing sodium did not reduce the risk of dying from heart attacks or strokes, and it increased the risk of death from heart failure (19)
Bottom Line: Although the evidence is mixed, some observational studies show that low-salt diet are linked to an increased risk of death from heart attacks or strokes. Controlled trials show no clear benefit.
3. Increased Risk of Death from Heart Failure
Heart failure is when the heart is not able to pump enough blood around the body to meet its needs for blood and oxygen.
This doesn’t mean that your heart stops working completely, but it’s still a very serious health issue.
Interestingly, low-sodium diets have been linked to an increased risk of death in people with heart failure.
One review of controlled trials found that for people with heart failure, limiting sodium intake increased the risk of dying (19).
In fact, the effect was strong — people who restricted their sodium intake had a 160% higher risk of death. This is concerning, as patients with heart failure are often told to limit their sodium intake.
Yet the results were strongly influenced by only one study, so more research is needed.
Bottom Line: There is some evidence showing that people with heart failure may have a higher risk of dying on a low-sodium diet. However, this needs to be confirmed by more studies.
4. A Low-Sodium Diet May Raise LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides
Some studies have found that low-sodium diets may increase both LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
In a 2003 review study of healthy people, low-sodium diets caused a 4.6% increase in LDL cholesterol and a 5.9% increase in triglycerides (20).
A more recent review reported a 2.5% increase in cholesterol and a 7% increase in triglycerides (21).
What’s more, these studies found that salt restriction only caused minor reductions in blood pressure on average, with a slightly stronger effect in people with high blood pressure.
Bottom Line: Studies have found that limiting salt may raise LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which are common risk factors for heart disease.
5. Increased Risk of Death for Diabetics
Diabetics have an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes (22).
However, these were observational studies, and their results should be interpreted with caution.
Bottom Line: Patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes may have an increased risk of death on a low-sodium diet. However, this needs to be studied further.
6. Higher Risk of Hyponatremia (Low Blood Levels of Sodium)
Hyponatremia is a condition characterized by low levels of sodium in the blood.
Its symptoms are similar to those caused by dehydration, and in severe cases the brain may swell and lead to headaches, seizures, coma and even death (27).
Certain populations, like older adults, have a higher risk of hyponatremia (28).
That’s because older adults are more likely to have an illness or take medication that can reduce sodium levels in the blood.
Bottom Line: A condition called hyponatremia, or low blood sodium levels, may affect certain people like older adults and some athletes. Eating less salt raises the risk of this condition.
How Much Sodium Should You Eat?
Studies suggest that there is a J-shaped curve when it comes to the effects of sodium.
Too much may be harmful, but too little can also have serious consequences.
The lowest risk of health issues and death seems to be somewhere in between.
However, some people may benefit from restricted sodium intake, such as those with salt-sensitive high blood pressure (34).
If you have a medical condition that requires a diet low in sodium, or if your doctor has advised you to limit your intake, then by all means continue to do so.
But if you are a healthy person trying to stay healthy, then there is no good evidence that following a low-sodium diet will improve your health.
Most of the excess sodium people eat comes from processed, packaged foods – stuff you shouldn’t be eating much of anyway.
Adding some salt to your healthy foods to improve flavor is both safe and healthy, and can make your diet much more pleasurable.