By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
First it was bad for you. Then it was bad only for those people who had high blood pressure. Now it’s back in the news – and the news isn’t good for those who crave it: salt.
Salt junkies are quick to point out that this tasty mineral is necessary for life. They’re right, of course. Salt is naturally present in every cell in our bodies, in the fluid that surrounds cells and also in our bones. Sodium aids in muscle contraction and nerve transmission, helps transport carbon dioxide and moves amino acids from the gut to cells throughout the body.
But, the problem with this line of thinking is that, when it comes to salt, a little goes a very long way. In fact, we only need 1,000 to 2,000 mg. of salt a day – much lower than the typical 7,000 to 15,000 mg. of salt most of us consume.
If you’ve got high blood pressure, you already know that salt is bad for you. But now, two different studies released by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute show that everyone could benefit from less salt in their diet, even those of us with normal blood pressure.
A Pillar of Evidence
In the first study, the Institute found that those people who ate less salt dramatically reduced their blood pressure, regardless of where blood pressure levels were when they began. In fact, the people who consumed 1,500 mg. a day or less showed the biggest drop, and thus dramatically lessened their chances of ever developing high blood pressure – a major risk factor for heart disease.
A second study provides even more reason to reduce our salt intake. It showed that people who have “salt sensitivity” have an increased risk of death, even if they don’t have high blood pressure. Salt sensitivity is more common in older people, African-Americans and those with a family member who is either salt sensitive or has high blood pressure.
It’s important to note that researchers estimate that up to 26 percent of people with normal blood pressure may be salt sensitive. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to detect whether or not you are one of them.
So, we can all be healthier if we just leave the salt shaker in the cupboard, right? If only it were that easy.
According to nutritional experts, only 10 percent of dietary sodium comes from adding salt to food at the dinner table. Instead, the bulk of sodium in our diet comes from prepared, preserved and processed food – and most of us don’t even have a clue that it’s there, especially if we don’t read food labels.
Luncheon meats, prepared cheese, soda pop, canned soups and vegetables, condiments, salad dressings and baked goods can all be deceptively high in sodium. For this reason, it’s important to look at the food label and pay particular attention to the % Daily Value column. Then select foods that have a % Daily Value for sodium of five or less. The goal is to make sure your combined daily intake adds up to no more than 100 percent of the Daily Value or 2,000 mg. But beware. Natural foods like milk also contain sodium, which should be included in your total daily intake.
Nutritionists also say that the % Daily Value numbers are particularly important because food label claims can be confusing or misleading. For example, “reduced sodium” merely means that the food has at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version. “Light in sodium” means it has been reduced by at least 50 percent. But that still doesn’t mean that the food is low in total sodium. Even the term “sodium free” only means that the product contains less than five mg. of sodium per serving.
One Last Thing . . .
If you’re looking for alternatives to the regular table salt you find at the grocery store, one tasty alternative is to switch to sea salt. According to some physicians, used in moderation, sea salt has been shown to have no negative effects on blood pressure and actually provides the body with a number of helpful minerals.
Another piece of advice for readers who want to reduce the negative impact of too much sodium – eat more potassium. Potassium helps lower blood pressure and can help offset sodium overload. Unless you have kidney disease, experts recommend that you consume 3,500 mg. of potassium a day. Foods that are particularly high in potassium include fruits (apricots, avocado, bananas, dates, melons, oranges and peaches), vegetables (artichokes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes and winter squash) dried beans, peas and lentils.
If you eat a diet high in these foods, you should be getting all of the potassium you need. But if you subsist on the typical American diet (which I certainly don’t recommend), you might want to consider taking a potassium supplement. Just be aware that many potassium supplements contain less than 100 mg. of the mineral (compared to a banana at 500 mg.) and may irritate your stomach.
This Just In . . .
Maybe the English are on to something. According to new research from the USDA, regularly drinking black tea may lower cholesterol levels.
In the six-week trial that included 15 participants, nearly half received five cups of black tea daily for three weeks. The investigators gave the other subjects colored water that was flavored like tea. The two groups were then switched, and the subjects received either the placebo drink or black tea for another three weeks. By the end of the study, the researchers discovered that LDL (bad) cholesterol dropped an average of 7.5 percent during the three weeks the participants consumed black tea compared with the placebo drink.
The researchers also conducted a second trial to exclude the effects of caffeine. They administered a tea-flavored placebo blend with caffeine levels similar to tea to 12 of the 15 subjects from the first study. Findings from the second study indicated that LDL cholesterol levels in those subjects who drank regular black tea dropped by about 11 percent compared with the participants who received the placebo drink.
Tea time anyone?
“DASH-Sodium Study: Salt Reduction Benefits All.” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Davies MJ, et al. “Black Tea Consumption Reduces Total and LDL Cholesterol in Mildly Hypercholesterolemic Adults.” Journal of Nutrition. 2003;133:3298S-3302S.
Sacks FM, et al. “Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. DASH-Sodium Collaborative Research Group.” New England Journal of Medicine. 20014;344:3-10.
Weinberger MH, et al. “Salt sensitivity, pulse pressure, and death in normal and hypertensive humans.” Hypertension. 2001;37:429-32.