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Kick the salt habit

Created date

June 24th, 2010

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Francisco, Stanford University Medical Center, and Columbia University Medical Center revealed that if everyone reduced their daily salt intake by half a teaspoon, there would be almost 100,000 heart attacks prevented and up to 92,000 fewer deaths each year. [caption id="attachment_12022" align="alignright" width="280" caption="(File photo)"]

How salt affects blood pressure

The technical name for table salt is sodium chloride. Sodium helps with nerve conduction and muscle function. More importantly, it helps keep the right balance of fluids in your body, which is directly related to blood pressure, Cefalu says. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. Eating too much sodium may contribute to high blood pressure in some people, he adds. When sodium is absorbed into your bloodstream through your digestive tract, excess water is also absorbed. That adds to your blood volume which is one way your blood pressure can go up. Other factors can also play a role, including how well your kidneys work. Your kidneys control how much sodium stays in your body. As you age, your kidneys are less capable of efficiently eliminating excess sodium that you take in, Cefalu says. Health conditions may affect how well your body processes sodium. Any illness that affects your ability to eat and drink may have an effect, Cefalu adds. So can seemingly minor illnesses like urinary tract infections. Some medications affect how your body reacts to sodium. Many of these types of medications affect the kidneys, like diuretics, Cefalu says.

Watch for hidden sodium

People in the U.S. tend to get more sodium in their diets than they need. Most experts recommend you eat less than 2.4 grams (2,400 milligrams) a day. That equals about one teaspoon of table salt. Along with accounting for any salt you add to food, you have to keep track of sodium in prepared foods. Read the label. A food item is considered low in sodium if it has 140 mg or less per serving, says Miriam Pappo, R.D., clinical nutrition manager at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, NY. Something may be low in calories and fat but still high in sodium. If a label says reduced sodium, that only means that it s at least 25% less than the usual amount in that particular food. Take soy sauce, for instance. Regular soy sauce might have 1,000 milligrams of sodium in a tablespoon. A reduced sodium version may still contain 750 milligrams per serving, Pappo says. Types of grocery items typically high in sodium are soups, canned foods, frozen foods, prepared mixes, and condiments. Beware of serving sizes, especially in condiments. Sometimes they are not reflective of what you would typically use, Pappo says. And most people don t measure. You might be adding a lot more than you think. Fast foods are notorious for being high in sodium, but sometimes even healthy choices contain hidden salt. Many fast food establishments actually inject salt solutions into lean meats like chicken and turkey to keep them moist and flavorful, Pappo says. There could be more sodium in a grilled chicken sandwich than in a hamburger.

Enjoying a low-sodium diet

There are a number of ways to enjoy foods without adding salt. Salt substitutes are sometimes a viable alternative, Cefalu says. But the real goal is to try to reset the salt craving center of your brain. You can do that by getting used to eating food that doesn t have a high salt content. To enhance flavor, some spices work better than others. Citrus flavors like lemon, lime, or orange are good choices. So are powdered mustard, horseradish, pepper, and wasabe, Pappo says. Fresh herbs, especially cilantro and mint, tend to have more flavor than dried ones. Many of these have sour or pungent flavors to really wow your tongue.