Avoid Salt and Reduce Your Blood Pressure

Look beyond the saltshaker to reduce your sodium intake and lower your blood pressure — most added salt comes from processed foods.


| June/July 2007



Salt

This turkey sandwich has 1,344 mg of sodium – more than a Big Mac, medium Coke and medium order of fries from McDonald’s.


Photo courtesy MATTHEW T. STALLBAUMER

Consider for a moment, the idea of cutting back on the amount of salt in your diet. What’s the first thing you’d do? If you glanced suspiciously at your saltshaker, you might be surprised to learn that the food we prepare at home accounts for only about 11 percent of the salt most of us consume in a single day. Instead, the bulk of the salt we eat — anywhere from 75 percent to 80 percent — is added to processed foods. Pass on the salt at the dinner table, and you still can consume more than the recommended daily amount by stopping at the local deli or fast-food joint for lunch.

How Much is Too Much?

Just what is the recommended daily allotment of salt? Although the amount of sodium necessary for good health continues to be debated, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences says adequate sodium intake is 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams each day, and that you should have no more than 2,300 milligrams per day. This equals about 1 teaspoon of table salt, which is 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. But the average American adult eats closer to 4,000 milligrams of sodium every day, according to the American Medical Association (AMA). The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) estimates that reducing sodium consumption by half in the United States would save about 150,000 lives and $1.5 trillion in medical costs over 20 years. 

Salt is a $340 million per year industry in the United States; and the food industry depends heavily upon the ubiquitous white crystal. As well-known nutritionist Marion Nestle explains in her book, What to Eat (North Point Press, 2006), salt is a cheap means of adding “flavor” to processed foods and extending shelf life. Plus, it makes us thirsty so we buy more beverages. It also binds water in food and makes it weigh more, so we pay extra for water weight.

Any official recommendations to downsize the amount of salt in the American diet would have far-reaching, multimillion dollar consequences. Not surprisingly, for every study that confirms excess salt is a primary cause of hypertension, kidney disease and other evils, another expert or industry-aligned representative quickly appears to downplay the findings and suggest that restricting sodium for the overall population would have unhealthful, perhaps even dangerous effects. Needless to say, these contradictory health recommendations have confused consumers.

Salt Basics

Salt has been a highly valued commodity for centuries. The Chinese were taxing and trading salt in the time of Confucius (551 to 479 B.C.), and in certain markets in North Africa during the 14th century, salt was reputedly traded for its weight in gold (though this was probably an exaggeration). Centuries later, Mahatma Gandhi and his followers famously marched to the sea and harvested salt in defiance of the British salt tax.

Sodium is a vital nutrient. In fact, our bodies consist primarily of water and sodium. The human body can’t make its own sodium, yet it’s essential to our survival. It assists in the transport of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body and also facilitates nerve transmission and muscle movement.

anai
12/27/2007 10:17:56 PM

Where can I find a turkey WITHOUT any flavoring solution of any sort? I've emailed maybe ten different places and they all either inject or brine their poultry. I can't find in any of the markets either? BTW I'm allergic to the herbs they use like garlic and pepper as a brine or to inject.


helen_10
6/19/2007 3:51:20 PM

As far as waiting to see if science wins out over business, don't hold your breath. Given the current regime, business wins every time. They don't believe in science. If they did, they wouldn't be killing stem cell research, or demanding that sex education be "abstinance only" or cutting funding for maternal health programs in other countries because they might mention abortion. And so on and so forth. However, we can all change our own diets and let the salt industry stew in its own brine!






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