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Salt of the Earth  
It makes food taste better and our bodies need it, but how much salt is too much?


HealthWho doesn’t crave a handful of salty potato chips or a bag full of hot buttered popcorn with a liberal sprinkling of salt? When you think about it, it is amazing the difference those little grains of salt can make in the taste of food. Whether it is a pinch or a dash, Americans love salt, and for some its use is more of a habit then a method of improving taste. How many of us reach for the salt shaker and apply the customary three or four shakes to our dinner plate before we even taste the food? So, through a lifetime of dining, our tendency to be creatures of habit adds more and more salt to our bodies. As medical research has shown, too much salt is a contributing factor to developing hypertension or high blood pressure that, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), affects one in four adults or fifty million Americans.

The total elimination of salt from your diet is unnecessary and not recommended since salt in small amounts is essential in keeping your body functioning normally. According to the Mayo Clinic, salt (also referred to as sodium) is necessary in the transmission of nerve impulses and plays a role in the act of contracting and relaxing muscles. Salt is also vital in helping your body maintain the right balance of fluids. Your kidneys are responsible for regulating the amount of sodium in your body by retaining it when sodium levels are low and excreting excess amounts through urine when levels are high.

Problems arise when there is too much sodium in your system for the kidneys to eliminate. At that point, sodium begins to accumulate in your blood. Since sodium attracts and retains water, your blood volume increases. Due to the increased volume of blood, the heart has to pump harder to move the blood through your body, thereby increasing the pressure in your arteries.

HealthSo how much salt is too much? The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the NIH notes that the current recommendation is to keep consumption of sodium to less than 2.4 grams a day, which equates to 6 grams (about 1 teaspoon) of table salt per day. The NIH adds that for people with high blood pressure, research indicates that consuming only 1,500 milligrams of sodium can have blood pressure lowering benefits.

When it comes to reducing the amount of salt in your family’s diet, you need to be aware of where hidden sodium is found and learn tricks for flavoring food. Salt is referred to by different names and exists in a number of different forms including sodium, disodium phosphate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking powder, baking soda, sodium nitrate or nitrite, and sodium alginate. According to The Mayo Clinic, the percentage of sodium in our diet comes from the following sources:

  • 5% added while cooking
  • 6% added while eating
  • 12% from natural sources
  • 77% from processed and prepared foods

A whopping three-quarters of the salt in our diets can be found in the canned, packaged, and prepared foods we have come to rely on in our hectic lifestyle. So, when buying prepared foods, check the Nutrition Facts label for any of the various sodium aliases and for the sodium content. Remember that the amount shown is for the stated serving size, and a can or package may contain multiple servings. When tracking sodium intake, remember to include the salt you add to your meal, and additional salt that may be present in some over-the-counter drugs, such as antacids.

When it comes to reducing the amount of sodium in your diet, the NIH offers the following tips:

  • Choose foods that say they are sodium free, contain very low or reduced sodium, or are unsalted.
  • Rather than use canned or processed meats, choose fresh meat, fish, and poultry.
  • Buy fresh,frozen, or canned “no salt added” vegetables.
  • Reduce your use of prepared foods such as canned soups, frozen pizzas and dinners, salad dressings, and packaged mixes—all of which contain a great deal of added sodium.
  • Cook pasta, rice, and hot cereals without adding salt. Instant flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes have large quantities of added salt, so reduce their use.
  • Rinse canned foods such as tuna to remove excess sodium.
  • Experiment with herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning mixes to reduce or eliminate added salt in your cooking and while at the table.
  • Limit your use of cured, smoked, or processed beef, pork, and poultry.
  • Remember that sea salt and Kosher salt need to be included in your calculation of daily sodium intake.

The Mayo Clinic adds that salt is an acquired taste and so the desire for it is reversible. By decreasing the amount of salt in your diet gradually, your taste buds will adjust and, over time, you won’t even miss the extra salt. So start small with a little less salt here and there. Use a few less prepackaged products each week and before long, you and your family will be pushing the saltshaker aside in favor of a healthier reduced-sodium diet and a happy heart!

As with any health or diet-related issues, consult with your family physician, health care provider, or dietician regarding any questions or concerns.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute—
Mayo Clinic—
American Heart Association—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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