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Published: October, 2011; Vol 8, Num 5

 

Health Suffers
When Salt Saturates

It’s no secret that too much salt is bad for one’s health, that we consume more than we should and that reducing consumption is easier said than done.

Seventy-seven percent of salt consumed comes from processed food -- the canned goods, mixes, frozen dinners and deli items that most of us eat, generally without concern. Only about four in ten of us pay attention to how much salt we consume. Even when we have alternatives, we choose not to give up salt.

For instance, three years after reducing the salt content in one of its Select lines of soups – from 800mg to 480mg – Campbell’s Soup announced plans to bump it back up to 650mg. Spokeswoman Julie Mandel Sloves said complaints about taste were the reason.

“People bought the soup because they really loved the idea of simple ingredients. But once they tried it, they didn't come back," Sloves said. “The reality is, if it doesn’t taste good, people are not going to buy it.”

"Healthy Salt" is an Oxymoron

Manufacturers may say otherwise, but sea salt and kosher salt are no healthier than table salt. All mostly consist of sodium chloride.

Sea salt contains trace amounts of calcium, magnesium and potassium – not found in table salt – but dairy products, fruits and vegetables offer considerably more of these elements without the high level of sodium.

Kosher salt is mined salt (as is table salt) processed under rabbinical supervision. Its large, coarse crystals dissolve slowly which is important in the curing process of kosher food. This is also why kosher salt is sometimes used as a food topping.

What makes salt a menace?

Sodium interacts with potassium and chloride – the other mineral found in salt – to maintain fluid balance in the body, regulate blood pressure, transmit nerve impulses and help with muscle function, including the heart. However, sodium, in excess, is linked to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

Up to age 50, the recommended sodium consumption is no more than 2300 mg a day. That is about a teaspoon of salt. Beginning at age 51 – or at any age for people who are African American or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease – the recommendation is no more than 1500 mg a day, about half a teaspoon.

Salt overloads restaurant foods, lunchmeats, canned soups, salad dressing, cereal and soda. Food manufacturers add salt to enhance flavor, slow spoilage and extend shelf life. Food products contain sodium when their ingredient labels list baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate or compounds in which “Na” is part of the name.

Reduce Intake of Salt

Retrain taste buds. Gradually scale back salt at the table and in cooking.

Read nutrition information. Look for foods that provide five percent or less of the "daily value." Check the serving size to tally your actual intake.

Sidestep sodium heavyweights. Limit cured meats like bacon, ham and hot dogs and brined foods like pickles and sauerkraut. Lighten up on ketchup, barbecue and steak sauces.

Rinse food. Running water over high-in-sodium foods like canned tuna and canned vegetables can reduce sodium by up to 30 percent.

Swap salt for spices. Cook with fresh or dried herbs, salt-free seasoning blends, lemon juice and flavored vinegars.

Be choosy at restaurants. If possible, check sodium content before ordering. Ask for sauce or dressing on the side.

However, more low-salt, no-salt foods are on the market, and the odds of finding products that are low in sodium and tasty are improving.More food-manufacturing giants are onboard with endeavors like the National Salt Reduction Initiative, which calls for reducing salt content in processed and restaurant food by 20 percent within five years. Resources like the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) website offer shopping guides, recipes and tips for choosing lower sodium restaurant food. This all shakes out for greater opportunities to reduce the salt in your diet without giving up on flavor.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]