Despite long recognized health concerns, our love affair with salt hasn't abated. If anything it's gotten worse: Current news reports detail popular restaurant meals with as much as 4 times the recommended maximum daily salt levels.
Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) "Heart Attack Entrées with Side Orders of Stroke" Overly Salty Restaurant Meals Present Long-Term Health Risks for All, and Immediate Danger for Some.
Since at least 6000 BC people have used salt as a preservative, seasoning, dietary supplement and even as currency. In fact, the two major components of salt - Chloride and Sodium - help regulate the fluid balance of the body and are necessary for the survival of all known living creatures, including humans.
However the reality is that we only need about 460 - 920 milligrams (mg) of salt per day. Most health organizations recommend a maximum of about 2400 mg, and people with high blood pressure, African Americans and people middle-aged and older should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily according to the government’s dietary advice.
Currently the average consumption in the US is as much as 4800 mg per day- twice the recommended maximum. So why are we eating so much?
A large part of the problem is our society's reliance on processed and prepared foods. According to a recent report by the Center For Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) , 85 out of 102 meals from popular US restaurant chains contained more than the recommended maximum sodium level in a single serving, with some containing as much as 4 times the amount. For example, the "Admiral's feast" from the Red Lobster chain of restaurants contains app. 7,106 mg of salt.
The health risks:
Your kidneys regulate the amount of sodium kept in your body. When levels are high, they excrete the excess amount in urine. If your kidneys can't eliminate enough sodium it begins to accumulate in your blood, increasing the blood volume and subsequently the pressure in your arteries. Certain diseases such as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis and chronic kidney disease can lead to an inability to regulate sodium.
According to the American Heart Association, "... a 1200 mg decrease in daily sodium intake would result in 6 percent fewer cases of new heart disease, 8 percent fewer heart attacks, and 3 percent fewer deaths per year. Even larger health benefits are projected for African Americans, who are more likely to have high blood pressure and whose blood pressure may be more sensitive to salt. Among African Americans, new heart disease cases would be reduced by 10 percent, heart attacks by 13 percent and deaths by 6 percent."
In addition, new studies have linked dietary factors -including sodium intake- to a sudden increase in kidney stones in pediatric patients as well as adults.
Up to 65 percent of kidney stones are formed when oxalate, a byproduct of certain foods, binds to calcium in the urine. The two biggest risk factors for this binding process are not drinking enough fluids and eating too much salt; both increase the amount of calcium and oxalate in the urine.
Excess salt has to be excreted through the kidneys, but salt binds to calcium on its way out, creating a greater concentration of calcium in the urine and the kidneys.
How to cut sodium:
You can cut your sodium intake in several ways:
- Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium, and fresh meats are much lower in sodium than processed luncheon meat, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham.
- Opt for low-sodium products. If you do buy processed foods, select those that have reduced sodium.
- Remove or reduce salt from recipes whenever possible. You can leave out the salt in many casseroles, stews and other main dishes. Providing a shaker on the table will allow guests to use as much - or as little- as their tastes require.
- Limit your use of salty condiments. Salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard and relish all contain sodium.
- Use herbs, spices and other flavorings to enhance foods.
- Use salt substitutes carefully. Some salt substitutes or light salts contain a mixture of table salt (sodium chloride) and other compounds. To achieve that familiar salty taste, you may use too much of the substitute and actually not use less sodium. In addition, many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride, which can be harmful if you have kidney problems, congestive heart failure or high blood pressure that cause potassium retention.
Your taste for salt is acquired, so it's reversible. If you decrease your use of salt gradually your taste buds will easily adjust. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon (1 milliliter) of added salt daily, and then gradually decrease that to as little as possible. As you use less salt, your preference for it lessens, allowing you to enjoy the taste of food itself.