Stop the Salt Insanity

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 09:15 AM EDT

Salt has been traded for gold, slaves, and the services of Roman soldiers, and long before refrigeration was invented, it helped preserve food. Now, due to excessive amounts in our diets, salt has become a killer. However, some simple seasoning changes can save lives.

Excess salt contributes to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, stomach cancer, kidney disease, and osteoporosis. In the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers estimated that 92,000 deaths per year could be prevented if most Americans reduced their salt intake by a bit less than one-and-one-half teaspoons per day.

On average, men eat more than 4 teaspoons (around 10 grams) daily and women eat approximately 3 teaspoons (just over 7 grams). A moderate amount, the upper range recommended for a healthy person, is around 1 teaspoon (2.4 grams).

Where It Hides
More than three-quarters of the sodium in American diets comes from processed foods. For example, a quarter-pound cheeseburger, a chicken sandwich, or one slice of pizza may contain roughly half or more of a day’s 1-teaspoon sodium limit. Some fast-food sandwiches contain more than a full day’s recommended total.

You probably wouldn’t dump a whole teaspoon of salt on a sandwich, so why do fast-food restaurants and processed food manufacturers do it? In assembly-line food production, it’s a lot easier to develop recipes with one inexpensive seasoning rather than a variety of spices and herbs. Salt can also cover up poor food quality and acts as a preservative.

This has been going on for a long time, so most people’s taste buds have become accustomed to the end result. However, it’s never too late to make better choices.

Other Types of “Salt”
Simply trying to avoid eating too much salt isn’t very practical. Low-salt or salt-free versions of prepared foods generally don’t have an appealing flavor. One obvious alternative is to buy fresh food, prepare it from scratch, and use a variety of seasonings. This is easier than you might think.

Any supermarket carries salt alternatives in the seasoning section, such as No Salt, and you may like the taste of one or more of these. Mrs. Dash is another brand and has more than a dozen different salt-free seasoning mixes in handy shakers, as well as salt-free marinades. The company site, www.mrsdash.com, offers lots of cooking tips and recipes. The trick is to expand your horizons, experiment a little and find something you like among the many flavors that are available.

Another option is to make your own seasoning blend. Again, it isn’t very difficult.

Dr. Michael Ozner, cardiologist and author of the Miami Mediterranean Diet, recommends this simple recipe: Combine equal amounts of a sodium-free salt alternative, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder (not garlic salt, which is another sodium source). Shake well to mix ingredients thoroughly and fill an empty salt shaker with the mixture.

You can get more exotic and try different seasonings on specific foods. For example, instead of salt, try paprika on grilled fish or on a side dish of sliced cucumbers mixed with a little plain yogurt.

If you hate cooking or simply don’t have the time, buy low- or no-salt canned soup or other prepared food and season with a flavorful salt-free blend. If it isn’t practical to always buy fresh vegetables, choose frozen ones rather than canned, as these frequently contain added sodium. And, splurge with your favorite seasoning (without salt).

If you frequently eat out or buy lunch near your office, get to know some restaurants or markets that offer dishes with little or no salt, or request that they add these to their menu. If the food is bland, bring your own shaker and add some tasty salt-free seasoning.

When buying any packaged food, always check the Nutrition Facts panel for sodium content. Whenever a percentage is listed, it means a percentage of 2,400 milligrams, and it’s always stated “per serving.” Take note of the serving size because you may well eat more than one.

But Don’t Underdo Salt
If you’re among the minority that eats mainly homemade food with little salt, don’t avoid it altogether. Although salt has been compared to tobacco as a substance that should be regulated to save lives, the analogy is flawed.

Unlike tobacco, salt is essential to human life. It’s a vital nutrient that helps to maintain a balance of fluids in the human body, is necessary for nerves to transmit impulses and is required for normal function of muscles. In one study of people with heart failure, extreme reduction of salt correlated with more deaths.

Given the overabundance of sodium in today’s diets, it makes sense to use other seasonings as much as possible. In addition to the health benefits, who doesn’t want to add more flavor to life?

© HealthDay

Excessive amounts of salt, which is linked to heart problems, cancer, and more, hide in processed foods and restaurant menu items. With a few seasoning changes, however, you can still have flavorful food that won't damage your health.
Wednesday, 31 March 2010 09:15 AM
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