Fat used to be sinful, and now it’s not. Sugar was never great, but now it will kill you. And then there’s salt.

Salt has always been moderately evil—it has been thought to cause high-blood pressure and heart problems—to the point that some health professionals say 0 grams of salt a day for many people is best. Especially for old people, they say. If you have ever visited a grandparent in assisted living and joined them for lunch, you probably ate a whole lot of bland, tasteless, saltless food.

The WHO (World Health Organization)’s generic recommendation is to consume less than 2 grams of salt a day to ensure you stay free from high blood pressure and strokes.

To put that into context, 100 grams of bacon has around 1.7 grams of sodium, so if you ate bacon for breakfast that’s pretty much your salt for the day according to the WHO. Don’t even think about sprinkling any additional salt on your eggs or avocado!

Good news for salt lovers is this could all be poor advice. A recent study, which involved more than 90,000 people in more than 18 countries, published in the Lancet Medical Journal says no country has ever reduced their sodium intake to those low levels, nor should they try.

The Canadian researchers discovered salt’s alleged harmful effects were only relevant in countries, such as China, where they use a ton of salty substances, like soy sauce, very liberally, and where people tend to consume more than 12 g of salt a day. Not only that, they discovered that incredibly low levels of salt in a person’s diet led to more heart attacks and death than moderate levels of sodium. They explain that low levels (i.e. less than 3g) and high levels (above 5g), are associated with cardiovascular risk and higher blood pressure, but somewhere in the middle can actually play a role in improving cardiovascular health, as the body needs sodium—an essential nutrient.

Why your body needs salt

  • Sodium is needed for our muscles to contract, for regulating fluid balance, for regulating blood pressure, and for our nervous system to properly transmit signals.
  • Sodium also helps you absorb chloride, amino acids, glucose and water in your intestines.

Why is potassium important?

  • Potassium regulates fluid balance, muscle contractions, and plays a role in nervous system function. A high-potassium diet is believed to reduce blood pressure and water retention, as well as helping stave off cardiovascular troubles, osteoporosis, and kidney stones.
  • Low potassium is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, digestive problems, and infertility

One more final thought about salt to take with a grain of salt

If you sweat a lot, especially in the summer and if you’re working out hard, you probably can handle a bit more salt than otherwise. So the next time you want to ask for salt but feel like you might offend the cook as the implication might be the food is bland, don’t hold back. You need sodium as much as any other mineral in your body and if you’re craving salty foods, there might be a reason for it.