Tuesday, July 5, 2011

SALT: What's the Harm?

by Meredith Terranova, Eating and Living Healthy

At least once a week I get asked the question, "Since I need salt during exercise what's wrong with having it in my daily nutrition?" Sodium, and moreover electrolyte balance, in your body particularly during exercise is essential. But, as you read below, just as important is managing and limiting your consumption in your daily nutrition. Our bodies are amazing in their ability to strive for equilibrium so do your best to help create the balance.

In the Texas heat it is easy to think that you can eat plenty of salt because you will sweat it out just walking to your car. But the fact of the matter is that everywhere you turn: whether eating in or eating out there is more than enough salt in your diet. Read below to see what the excess can do, and how to make changes.

Maybe you have been trying to eat less sodium - just a pinch of table salt on your baked potato and a dash on your scrambled eggs. But a pinch here and a dash there can quickly add up to unhealthy levels of sodium. Consider that just one teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium. And it's not just table salt you have to worry about. Many processed and prepared foods already contain lots of sodium.

In fact, if you're like many people, you're getting far more sodium than is recommended (1500-2300mg). The average American is getting in 3000mg per day.
Your body needs some sodium to function properly because it:
  • Helps maintain the right balance of fluids in your body
  • Helps transmit nerve impulses
  • Influences the contraction and relaxation of muscle
Your kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in your body for optimal health. When your sodium levels are low, your kidneys essentially hold on to the sodium. When sodium levels are high, your kidneys excrete the excess in urine.

But if for some reason your kidneys can't eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to accumulate in your blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, your blood volume increases. Increased blood volume makes your heart work harder to move more blood through your blood vessels, which increases pressure in your arteries. Such diseases as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis and chronic kidney disease can make it hard for your kidneys to keep sodium levels balanced.

Some people's bodies are more sensitive to the effects of sodium than are others. If you're sodium sensitive, you retain sodium more easily, leading to fluid retention and increased blood pressure. The extra sodium can even lead to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.

To help keep your sodium consumption in check, you need to know where the sodium comes from. Here are the main sources of sodium in a typical diet:
  • Processed and prepared foods. The vast majority of dietary sodium comes from eating foods that are processed and prepared. These foods are typically high in salt, which is a combination of sodium and chloride, and in additives that contain sodium. While these ingredients have many practical uses - such as preservation and enhanced taste - they can greatly increase your sodium intake.
  • Natural sources. Some foods naturally contain sodium. These include celery and other vegetables, and dairy products such as milk, meat and shellfish. While they don't have an abundance of sodium, eating these foods does add to your overall sodium intake. For example, 1 cup (237 milliliters) of low-fat milk has about 107 mg of sodium.
  • In the kitchen and at the table. Many recipes call for salt, and many people also salt their food at the table. And many other condiments also contain sodium. One tablespoon (15 milliliters) of soy sauce, for example, has about 1,000 mg of sodium.

Taste alone may not tell you which foods are high in sodium. For example, you may not think a bagel tastes salty, but a typical 4-inch oat-bran bagel has about 532 mg of sodium.

The best way to reduce your sodium is to read food labels. The Nutrition Facts label found on most packaged and processed foods lists the amount of sodium in each serving. It also lists whether the ingredients include salt or sodium-containing compounds, such as:
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Disodium phosphate
  • Sodium alginate
  • Sodium nitrate or nitrite
Know your labels
Many food packages include sodium-related terms. Here's what they mean:
  • Sodium-free or salt-free. Each serving in this product contains less than 5 mg of sodium.
  • Very low sodium. Each serving contains 35 mg of sodium or less.
  • Low sodium. Each serving contains 140 mg of sodium or less.
  • Reduced or less sodium. The product contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version.
  • Lite or light in sodium. The sodium content has been reduced by at least 50 percent from the regular version.
  • Unsalted or no salt added. No salt is added during processing of a food that normally contains salt. However, some foods with these labels may still be high in sodium.
But watch out - foods labeled "reduced sodium" or "light in sodium" may still contain a lot of salt. If the regular product starts out high in sodium, reducing it by 25 or 50 percent may make little difference. For example, regular canned chicken noodle soup contains about 1,100 mg of sodium per cup, while the reduced-sodium version may still have 820 mg per cup.

The bottom line is to avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving. And check the Nutrition label closely for the serving size - and consider how many servings you actually eat.

You may or may not be particularly sensitive to the effects of sodium. But most people can benefit from reducing sodium intake.

Here are ways you can cut back on sodium in your diet:

Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Also, fresh meat is lower in sodium than are luncheon meat, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham. Buy fresh and frozen poultry or meat that hasn't been injected with a sodium-containing solution. Look on the label or ask your butcher.
  • Remove salt from recipes whenever possible. You can leave out the salt in many recipes, including casseroles, stews and other main dishes that you cook. Baked goods are generally an exception since leaving out the salt could affect the quality and taste. Use cookbooks that focus on lowering risks of high blood pressure and heart disease to help guide you to sparing the salt without spoiling taste or quality.
  • Limit use of sodium-laden condiments. Soy sauce, salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard and relish all contain sodium.Use herbs, spices and other flavorings to enhance foods. Use fresh or dried herbs, spices, zest from citrus fruit, and fruit juices to jazz up your meals. And remember that sea salt has about the same amount
  • Use salt substitutes wisely. Some salt substitutes or light salts contain a mixture of table salt and other compounds. To achieve that familiar salty taste, you may use too much of the substitute - and get too much sodium. Also, many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride. Although potassium can lessen some of the problems from excess sodium, too much potassium can be harmful if you have kidney problems or if you're taking medications for congestive heart failure or high blood pressure that cause potassium retention.
Your taste for salt is acquired, so you can learn to enjoy less. Decrease your use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust. After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, you probably won't miss it, and some foods may even taste too salty. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of added salt daily, and then gradually reduce to no salt add-ons. As you use less salt, your preference for it diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the taste of the food itself, with heart-healthy benefits.

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