The Nutritional Verdict on Salt is In: Guilty as Charged

People who regularly eat a high-salt diet – in other words, the typical American – are at a higher risk of high blood pressure, a new study has confirmed.

Scientists followed more than 4,000 people who started out with normal blood pressure. After three years, 23 percent of them had developed elevated blood pressure. The study found that those who ate a high-salt diet or increased the amount of salt they consumed were most likely to develop hypertension. Read more about the study on the American Heart Association blog. 

Practically speaking, even people who are trying to watch how much salt they add to their foods often fall short of sticking to the recommended 2,500 milligrams a day.

Why?

Let’s look in your pantry. Or mine.

Grab just about any food out of your cupboard or favorite restaurant and chances are one of the most prominent ingredients is salt. A serving of Honey Nut Cheerios contains six percent of all of the sodium you are supposed to be eating in one day. A serving of Oscar Meyer ham lunchmeat will add another 510 mg of salt to your count and two slices of Nature’s Own Honey wheat bread will win you another 248 milligrams of salt.  A serving from that blue box of Kraft macaroni and cheese will get you 710 grams of sodium, or about 30 percent of what you are supposed to be eatingin one day. A six-inch meatball marinara sub from Subway contains 920 milligrams of salt. Add a small package of Lay’s potato chips and you added 170 milligrams of sodium to your diet. One serving of extra crispy KFC fried chicken cotains a whopping 1,140 milligrams of sodium, which is nealy half of what you should be eating a day. A side of KFC baked beans has more than 2500 milligrams of salt, which is the recommended limit for one day.

Because we eat like this Americans consume on average 3,500 milligrams of salt a day, which is 1,000 more milligrams of sodium than is recommended by the vast majority of public health groups. Even if you don’t add salt to your food at the dinner table, if you are like most Americans you are getting 75 percent of your daily intake of sodium from processed foods – all those chips, sauces, canned foods, breads and lunchmeats that we don’t think twice about as we are putting food on the table.

For African Americans, hypertension is one of the leading chronic illnesses and is responsible for our high rate of heart disease, stroke, obesity and dementia.  High blood pressure is one of the seven major risk factors for cognitive decline as we age. More than 40 percent of African Americans have high blood pressure, the American Heart Association reports. Not only do we get it in higher numbers than white Americans but we tended to get it earlier in life which gives the disease ample time to jack up your body, your organs and your cognitive abilities.

A person gets a blood pressure check

Hands checking patient’s blood pressure

So what is a person to do? First, dramatically cut down on the amount of processed foods you are eating and serving your family. Second, cook your own food and limit the amount of salt you put in it. Use other spices – red pepper, smoky paprika or ginger, just to name a few — to punch of bland foods. Gradually decrease the amount of salt you add to your recipes and boost up the amount of other spices so they can get used to it. Don’t keep a salt shaker at the table. And track your sodium intake for a few days so you can see the culprits in your own diet. One free food tracker to try is the federal government’s Super Tracker, which gives you info on sodium consumption as well as calories, fats and  other key data points. If you use a fitness tracker such as Jawbone or Fitbit, you probably have access to MyFitnessPal, another app to track your sodium and other data. I recently did this and the results where shocking even for a slow food/health conscious vegetarian like me; those scoops of Jif low-fat peanut butter are great for a quick protein boost but was killing me on the sodium intake. Click here for a list of the saltiest foods out there and see which are your favs. Once you know how much and from where that sodium is getting into your body, start weaning yourself and your family off the salt habit.  Your body, butt and brain will thank you.

Salt photos by Larry Hoffman under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

KFC chicken by James under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

Author: Retha Hill

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