Shake the Salt

So, you love salt. Is it really a health problem? Do you really need to watch how much salt you consume? The simple answer is, yes.

(We're going to use the term sodium, which is actually the part of salt giving us the grief. Table salt is sodium chloride, or NaCl, just in case you were wondering.)

For people who have high blood pressure (HBP) consuming more sodium increases blood pressure. When this happens, the risk for developing coronary heart disease and stroke goes up. Not good if you are planning to live a long, fun-filled life. If you don't have high blood pressure right now, you could still have a tendency toward developing HBP later on, or you may be what some experts call sodium sensitive. If you are, too much sodium may also zip your BP higher. If you don't have HBP, aren't sodium sensitive or don't have a tendency of developing HBP, consuming more sodium won't give you HBP. Yikes---this gets confusing! The real trouble is, you may not know if you are one of those with a tendency toward HBP. To top that off, almost one-third of all Americans currently have HBP. Are you next? Clearly, there's only one answer here: we all need to limit our sodium intake.

The average American is chomping down from 3300-4200 mg of sodium each day. Recommended levels are under 2300 mg which is as much as what's in a teaspoon of salt. If you already have HBP, the American Heart Association is advising 1500 mg.

Most of the sodium we are getting is coming from salt added to the foods we are eating for flavor, processing, or preserving foods. 20% is in the food naturally, so we can't take out all sodium, nor do we want to. We need some!

To Reduce Sodium
  • Choose fresh, frozen or canned foods without added salt.
  • Beware of our biggest sodium sources: condiments, tomato sauce, soups, canned food and prepared mixes. Choose lower sodium selections if possible, otherwise, do with less.
  • Buy nuts and seeds, dried beans and lentils without added salt.
  • Cut down on salty snacks: chips, pretzels, etc.
  • Add less salt to foods: salt shaker off, pepper grinder on!
  • Choose low sodium soups, broth, bouillon: the regular ones are loaded with sodium.
  • Start using herbs, both fresh and dried to season dishes; lemon on fish is great.
  • Be careful in restaurants. Specifically ask for no added salt to your foods.
One little note: eating salt/sodium will not make you gain body fat. It may make you retain excess water, so you could see the scales go up if you are a daily scale hopper and you enjoyed bunch of salty food the day before. In this case, the scales may truthfully be up due to fluid retention---it's temporary.

Bring on the Potassium

Foods rich in potassium bring an amazing ability of offset some of the evils of excess sodium. Potassium helps regulate fluid balance and has been shown to decrease blood pressure--cool! (And reduce the risk of kidney stones and bone loss, in case you wanted to know.) Reach for the potassium rich foods, not the supplements for the magic here.
  • Cantaloupe, watermelon
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Almonds
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach, kale, greens
  • Milk
  • Apricots, raisins
  • Sweet potato, squash
The moral of the story: A healthy diet is not one with a daily dose of salt overload. We all need to watch just how much we shake that salt shaker!

And while we're at it, have an orange.
To your health!