Is Salt the Enemy?

Is Salt the Enemy?Two years have passed since the New York City Health Department announced its national initiative to reduce American’s salt intake twenty percent by the year 2015.  Being sited as the catalyst for increased blood pressure, heart attacks and stokes, salt in some circles is seen as public enemy number one.  Just last September the Department of Health and Human Services announced its own national campaign against heart attacks (and indirectly sodium intake) called Million Hearts. This national initiative has set the ambitious goal to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.

But is salt really the problem?  Yes and no.  Salt consumed at the recommended serving size of 2300 mg a day is fine for seventy percent of the population who are not considered sodium sensitive.  The problem is that on average Americans consume two to three times the recommended serving size…every day.  But the larger issue is that many of us are completely unaware that we’re sodium offenders.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about ninety percent of Americans eat more than the recommended amount of salt.  We think we are eating right by counting calories, bringing our own lunches to work, and refraining from sprinkling salt on the more bland foods we consume.  Unfortunately, you can remove calories without removing salt.  And did you know that if you dined out for even just one meal today, it’s possible you’ve already reached or exceeded your sodium allotment for the day?

The good news is that you can easily take control of your sodium intake.  The CDC has identified the ten offending food types responsible for nearly half of the sodium we consume; those foods include: breads, cold cuts and deli meats, pizza, fresh and processed poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat mixed dishes such as meat loaf with tomato sauce, and snacks such as chips, pretzels, and popcorn. That doesn’t mean that you can never eat these foods, but that you should be on the lookout for sodium information when you do.  As part of the National Salt Reduction Initiative, many companies are reducing the sodium they put in their products. On the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygene website they have a list of companies committed to reducing the amount of sodium in their food products.  The list is a good one and includes pre-packaged food products you can buy at the grocery store as well as commercial restaurants.

Another great way to track your salt intake is with your smart phone.  There are lots of apps out there that provide a free and easy way to record what you eat by scanning the barcodes on food packaging, counting your calories for you,  or even evaluating your personal sodium consumption.

As you evaluate what you eat and the salt that comes along with it, you will often find you do not need to add any additional salt to your food.  At Emory Healthcare we have a helpful chart that makes recommendations for herb and spice substitutes to salt.  We hope you find this chart useful and incorporate it into your diet strategy.

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