Salt - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- Created on Monday, 27 February 2012 15:43
- Written by Maria Tadd
- Hits: 994
The vast majority of our salt consumption, 75 percent, comes from processed foods and not from being heavy handed with the saltshaker. Manufacturers use salt to enhance flavors, stabilize products and/or use it as a preservative. We often blame the common culprits for our overindulgence of salt such as bacon, ham, sausage, lox and other cured meats; frozen or boxed entrées; frozen and canned vegetables; fast foods; chips and pretzels, and sauces and salad dressings. And yes, most of these foods make the CDC’s top ten list. But sodium can hide in unexpected places too. Just a few weeks ago, the CDC stated that bread and rolls are the No. 1 source of salt in the American diet, accounting for 7% of our salt intake, more than twice as much sodium as snacks such as potato chips and pretzels. Because salt is ubiquitous, foods that we might consider to be quasi healthy such as cottage cheese and V-8 juice aren’t as they are laden with salt, almost 1,000mg per cup and around 750mg per serving respectively. Some canned soups can contain up to 1300mg per serving! This is more than ½ the suggested daily amount.
Anyone 45 years old or older is at greater risk for high blood pressure and should be vigilant about not consuming too much salt. The USDA recommends that people middle-aged and older consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
Others who should be extra careful of their salt intake are African Americans, who, as a group, are more prone to high blood pressure, as well as people with a genetic predisposition to the condition and those who are obese.
Cutting back on salt helps lower blood pressure regardless of age, sex, race, or dietary patterns. Fifty percent of white hypertensive patients and 75 percent of blacks, get a major drop in blood pressure when they reduce their sodium intake. [Note, not all hypertension is related to sodium consumption.] Health officials say no one should eat more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, equal to about a teaspoon of salt. On average Americans consume around 3,300 milligrams. The CDC study found that only 1 in 10 Americans meet the teaspoon guideline.
The truth of the matter is sodium plays a vital role in our health. Although no one knows for certain, scientists estimate the body requires 250 to 500 milligrams (mg) each day for basic physiologic functions, not the 3,300mg of salt consumed daily by most Americans. We need salt to transport nutrients, transmit nerve impulses, and contract muscles, including the heart. Furthermore, the chloride in salt (NaCl) helps regulate our pH or acid/base balance, absorbs potassium, and helps the blood to carry carbon dioxide from respiratory tissues to the lungs. So the consumption of salt is important to our wellbeing. And just as important as salt is to our wellbeing, not enough salt can have negative consequences. A lack of sodium can result in muscular weakness and cramps, exhaustion, and dehydration. Severe sodium deprivation can be fatal.
Most people know that eating too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension), but high sodium intake has been linked with other serious conditions as well. Even in someone who does not have hypertension, excessive sodium intake increases risk for congestive heart failure (inadequate pumping action of the heart), kidney disease, arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and stroke.
It also has been linked to osteoporosis. High sodium intake may increase the excretion of calcium, which over time reduces calcium in the bones, leading to a deficiency that often results in osteoporosis.
Researchers found that salt increased the virulence of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium. This bacterium causes the vast majority of stomach ulcers and greatly increases a person's risk of gastric cancer and a certain form of lymphoma.
The business of food is to create highly rewarding stimuli by making sure it is high in salt, fat and sugar! The more sugar and salt we eat, the more we want in spite of feeling full. So we will come back for more, time and again. The primary goal of the food industry is to make food as indulgent as possible, to give it a high hedonic value. Salt and sugar are highly addicting and we will always crave more. So it is no accident that so much of our prepared foods are laden with these two ingredients. The only way to escape from this highly calculated assault is to cook our own meals as often as possible. It can take months to wean ourselves from salt and sugar cravings. But if we make the commitment, we will find that healthy eating pays off. Not only will we reduce our risk for hypertension, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and possibly cancer, but we also will enjoy greater wellbeing and we will probably feel a lot better.