Monday, March 15, 2010

Licking the Salt Habit

Before surging obesity rates made villains of trans fats and sugars, salt was the big nutritional bad guy in the American diet, linked to hypertension, heart disease and stroke.
• Then waistlines expanded, and the focus shifted to fats and sugars.
• Aware that Americans' salt consumption has risen by 50 % over the past 40 years largely because of an increased reliance on a diet of processed and restaurant foods, public health experts and politicians are attempting to put the spotlight back on salt and its harmful health effects.
• The latest big bad wolf in the American diet – SALT – current hot nutrition topic

Recent research shows that overall health in the United States could be significantly improved with only a modest reduction in the annual consumption of salt.
• A recent study published in January this year in the New England Journal of Medicine - calculated the benefits of a decrease.
• If everyone consumed half a teaspoon less salt per day, there would be between 54,000 and 99,000 fewer heart attacks each year and between 44,000 and 92,000 fewer deaths
• High levels of sodium are linked to hypertension, which leads to heart disease.

The definitions
• The terms salt and sodium are related but not interchangeable.
• Sodium refers to the chemical element, with 2,300 milligrams as the recommended daily allowance.
• Salt, refers specifically to sodium chloride -- 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.

How much are we eating?
• Most Americans consume estimated average intake of 3,436 mg per day.
• 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 2 out of 3 adults are in population groups that should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams .
• These include people with high blood pressure, the elderly and African-Americans according to government recommendations.
• 1500 mg is also the amount the American Heart Association recommends.
• Everyone else should set a limit of 2,300 mg per day-equivalent of 1 teaspoon of table salt.
• Sodium equivalents in salt. <¾ teaspoon salt (AHA value); 1 1/2/ teaspoon salt (actual aver. Intake); <1 cup salt (aver. monthly intake)

Some controversy
• Not every expert in the field of salt science is persuaded that sodium reduction is necessary.
• Sodium is essential in regulating water balance, pH (acid balance), normal pressure in the fluids surrounding cells and in nerve transition.
• Health change, smoking would be No. 1 and salt intake would be somewhere well below it.
• Yet already the mayors of New York City and San Francisco are asking that restaurants in their cities voluntarily lower sodium content of the meals served.
• Theory that small changes in salt, such as lowering content in tomato sauce or breads and cereals by a small amount, would achieve small changes in blood pressure that would have a measurable effect across the whole population.
• Given the upside, which would translate into lower health-care costs, what are people waiting for? The challenge comes in the sacrifice.

What can you do?
• Obvious thing to do, but avoiding the saltshaker at home barely makes a dent in sodium intake.
• Seventy-five percent of the salt consumed by Americans is derived from processed foods and from foods served at restaurants - -not the salt shaker.

Avoiding processed foods is a good first step toward eating a more healthful diet
• Sodium has several functions in the processed food supply. Various forms of sodium, including salt are used as preservatives against food borne pathogens, to modify flavor, binds ingredients, enhances color, and serves as a stabilizer.
• Sodium is an essential nutrient, but very little is needed in the diet.
• Limit processed foods as they contain approximately 3/4 of the sodium we consume.

Begin with the basics
• Eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Choose from the large variety of low-sodium processed food products.
• Decrease taste for salt gradually.
• Learn to use spices and herbs to enhance the taste of your food. Most spices naturally contain very small amounts of sodium.
• Add fresh lemon juice instead of salt to your dishes.
• Don’t use the salt shaker. Use the pepper shaker or mill.

Pay close attention to labels
• Shy away from foods that have greater than 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance for sodium.
• The most important thing to know is just because food doesn't taste salty doesn't mean it's not high in sodium, so always check the nutrition panel.
• It is important to look at the label to check the amount of sodium in one serving and to determine the number of servings you normally consume.

The bottom line
• This spring, Institutes of Medicine to release report - Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake.
• While there is a push on by federal agencies and municipalities to decrease sodium in the American diet, you don’t need to depend upon them to make changes.
• Although it can be tough to keep track of sodium intake, online food diaries, such as www.mycalorie counter and www.calorieking, can help.
• Go to to get more information on salt and lowering your sodium intake.

Label language
Food labels give shoppers a clue as to how much, if any, sodium is contained in the product:
>> Sodium-free: less than 5 milligrams per serving
>> Very low sodium: 35 mg or less
>> Low sodium: 140 mg or less
>> Reduced sodium: reduced by at least 25 percent but still might not meet low-sodium guidelines
>> Unsalted or no salt added: made without salt but still contains any naturally occurring salt