Most Americans eat too much salt (or sodium). In some studies nearly three times the healthy amount of 1.5 grams per day. 95% of men and 75% of women eat 5.8 grams per day. A diet high in sodium increases blood pressure and is directly linked to heart attacks and strokes. These effects are more pronounced in blacks, older patients, those with high blood pressure at baseline, and those with diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
Sources of Salt
Only 5 to 10% of our total sodium intake comes not from table salt added to food. The vast majority is from restaurants and processed foods. The American Medical Association (AMA) has recently called for a reduction in salt added to food.
What can Change
As opposed to smoking, which you'll know you're doing, high sodium intake is often "hidden". You might not know exactly how much salt is in the food prepared in restaurants. Even food you buy in the grocery store might have confusing labels.
Surprisingly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has labeled sodium as "generally regarded as safe". There is now a movement to end this "safe" status. The Center for Science in the Public Interest and AMA are currently petitioning the FDA to change. Ideally, a 50% reduction in sodium content of processed foods, fast foods, and restaurant meals is sought.
Two areas that are being addressed include the public's awareness of sodium's effect on cardiovascular disease and improved labeling of food.
Is Salt Necessary?
Eliminating all sodium from the diet is dangerous. All people and animals need sodium to live. The amounts we currently consume are simply far above those we require.
It is important to note that salt is often added to processed foods as a preservative. The foods thus require less expensive processing, shipping, and handling as they are less likely to spoil. It's no surprise that food manufacturers are resisting making changes. It's true that salt helps preserves food - it has been used in this way for thousands of years. However, a decrease in salt to the proposed levels would not significantly impact food's preservation.
Simple Steps to Take
I recommend my patients take several simple steps to decrease their sodium intake.
- First, stop using table salt.
- Second, decrease the take out and restaurant meals
- Third, tell the waiter you are "allergic to salt" this doesn't really mean anything but they may pass the message on to the cook who'll use less salt
- Finally, pay attention to labels at the grocery store. Try to keep total sodium under 2 grams (2000 mg).
It turns out that increasing your intake of potassium can lower your blood pressure. Additionally, the blood pressure in those who eat more potassium is less affected by high sodium diets.
Not everyone should however start loading up on potassium. This can be dangerous to you if you have certain kidney or heart problems. You should discuss any change in diet with your doctor first.
Published On: January 28, 2008