Pass (on) the Salt Shaker! Cutting Sodium Can Prevent Heart Attacks, Strokes

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • My dad has high blood pressure. He also has edema (swelling) in his right leg, the reason for which the doctor hasn’t been able to diagnose. Therefore, Dad has increasingly has been vigilant about his salt intake, reading packaged food labels to identify the sodium content.

     

    However, salt seems to be everywhere in food these days. And we're consuming large quantities of it! Rather than the 3.7 to 5.8 grams of salt that is the daily recommended amount, an average American man will consume over 10 grams (2 teaspoons) each day; the average American woman downs over 7 grams, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine which received a lot of attention in the news media in the past weeks.

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    The study, as reported by CBS News, noted that cutting three grams of salt per day from one’s diet could prevent from 54-000 to 99,000 heart attacks and 32,000-66,000 strokes. Time added that researchers found that “reducing sodium by 3 g per day would be as good for the heart as cutting tobacco use by half, lowering one’s body mass index 5% or taking statin medications to lower cholesterol.” Time also noted that the advantages of cutting salt intake are greater for African Americans, who tend to develop high blood pressure, and for the elderly, whose blood vessels stiffen with age. Furthermore, it was estimated that the United States could save $10-24 billion annually in health care costs if citizens would cut salt intake.


    So how do you low the salt level in foods? The first step is to look closely at your diet. For instance, 75-80 percent of salt that many people consume comes from processed foods, such as breads, cereals and dairy products. One recommendation from researchers is to cut out salty snacks such as potato chips, tortilla chips, and popcorn. Several leading nutrition experts have suggested that when shopping in grocery stores, you should focus on products that line the perimeter of the store (which means produce, dairy, and meats); this step would eliminate many processed foods, which are located in the aisles.


    You can also become aware of the salt that you add while cooking. In the October issue of O Magazine, Dr. David Katz noted that  people who cook most of their meals themselves may not need to worry about salt level since five percent  of the sodium in the average American's diet is added while cooking, 6 percent is added from salting food at the table and 12 percent occurs in food naturally. By cooking your meals using fresh, whole ingredients, you'll eat approximately 1,000 milligrams of sodium, which is well under the recommended daily allowance of 2,300. Since I often make meals for Dad, I try to be careful in selecting recipes and ingredients (such as low-sodium chicken stock) and tend to leave much of the salt that is called for out of the recipe, which lets Dad salt his food to taste. I've also become a fan of recipe books, such as those by Ellie Krieger, which list nutrition information (including sodium) for each recipe.


  • Then there are public efforts to lower salt content. One of the more recent examples is New York City’s National Salt Reduction Initiative, which encourages restaurants and packaged-food companies to voluntarily reduce sodium content by 20% over a five-year period. Time reported that state and local health departments and consumer-health and professional-health organizations are endorsing NSRI.

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    Speaking of restaurants, you also have to vigilant when ordering. And don’t believe the marketing. Back in 2008, I wrote an article for HealthCentral’s Alzheimer’s site entitled, “High Blood Pressure and Alzheimer’s: Which Foods to Avoid.” In that sharepost, I reported on an article in Men’s Health, “20 Saltiest Foods in America.” In that article, authors Matt Zinczenko and Matt Goulding noted that one teaspoon of salt has the daily recommended allotment of sodium (2,300 milligrams). Using this number as a baseline, the pair noted the salt content of the following seemingly healthy menu choices: Chili’s Guiltless Grill Chicken Platter – 2,780 milligrams of sodium; Romano’s Macaroni Grill Chicken Florentine Salad – 5,460 milligrams of sodium; and Romano’s Macaroni Grill Chicken Portobello – 7,300 milligrams of sodium (which was the saltiest entrée that was listed).


    I have to say I do love what salt does for the taste of food’s taste. However, having seen Dad’s swollen leg, I know how important it is to make sure that I help him control the things in his diet that can ensure his health. So I’ll opt to leave out the salt in my cooking and place the salt shaker (or the salt substitute) nearby to allow us to season appropriately and healthily.

Published On: February 08, 2010