It seems the general rule when it comes to salt is ‘don’t have too much – it’s not healthy for you.’ And after hearing this message for most of our lives, the majority of people view it as fact. Put the salt shaker down; it’ll give you high blood pressure.
But a recent editorial piece in the New York Times by Gary Taubes argues otherwise, questioning whether or not salt really is as bad as they say it is.
Taubes points out that recent evidence suggests restricting the amount of salt we eat can actually increase our likelihood of dying prematurely, which is the exact opposite of what we thought before. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still considers salt the nation’s greatest health threat before fats, sugars and alcohol. But, a new rebel band of health experts now suspects that it’s more likely that eating the amount of salt the USDA and CDC actually recommends would be doing more of a disservice than benefit.
In the 1970s, despite no conclusive evidence showing a connection between salt intake and serious health problems, salt reduction was declared a must. Health experts at the time thought this to be true primarily based on the observation that populations outside the U.S. that ate little salt had minimal hypertension, as well as a study that showed a group of rats developed hypertension on a high-salt diet.
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Before you eat that chicken nugget, you might want to think first. Because it may just have sky high salt content, especially if it’s produced in the U.S.
A new study has been released that set out to examine the salt levels for products offered at fast food chains, including Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway.
The objective was formed after several fast food companies made commitments to reduce the salt levels in their food, but later cited ‘technical issues’ as the reason they couldn’t follow through with their promise and make any substantial reductions.
The study – conducted by lead author Elizabeth Dunford, the global database manager for the Australian branch of World Action on Salt and Health - compared the salt content of various food items from fast food restaurants in six countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, France, Canada and New Zealand. Results showed that the U.S. reigned supreme when it came to overly-salty foods. Canada ranked not far after, and France and the U.K. came out on top with the lowest overall rankings.
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The Centers for Disease Control compiled a list of the top sources of sodium in the American diet, and the list is likely to surprise you. Nine out of ten Americans consume too much salt on a daily basis, but the culprit isn’t salty snacks like pretzels or chips. In fact, you may be eating the two biggest sources of sodium in your lunch today: bread and cold cuts appear as the top two.
Mary Cogswell, one of the reports authors, explains that breads and rolls don’t necessarily contain more salt than other foods, but that people tend to eat more of them. However, you can cut your sodium intake by looking for breads that contain less than 150 milligrams per slice. Similarly, look for low-sodium deli meats and try to avoid salami, bologna and pimento.
Other items on the list include pizza, processed poultry, pasta dishes and soups. Salty snacks appeared at the tenth item on the CDC’s list, accounting for 3.1 percent of all sodium consumption. Like bread and other products, you can cut a significant amount of sodium from your diet by comparing the nutrition labels on the back of packages. The difference in sodium between one brand of potato chips an another can be as much as 150 milligrams.
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Most of us already know that too much salt isn’t a good thing. Yet what’s surprising is that despite decades of warnings to reduce sodium intake, Americans continue to over-consume the flavorful staple in most households. A new Harvard study shows that our salt intake really hasn’t changed over the past 50 years, and it seems like that intake is hardwired and not easy to change no matter how many PSAs or dietitian visits we have.
As more processed foods hit our shelves and as obesity rates continue to soar, it almost seems as though sodium levels would have continued to increase, not necessarily stay the same. Yet, after multiple studies were reviewed, all occuring between 1957 and 2003, it appears that 3700 milligrams of sodium was consistently consumed over the years. Of course, other measures of our sodium intake don’t necessarily reflect the same pattern. In fact, the NHANES, or National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, does indeed show an increase in salt consumption. The biggest difference between these survey results and that observed in the Harvard study is that the NHANES relies on food records where as the Harvard study took a look at urinary sodium output which is supposedly more accurate.
Current guidelines for sodium intake are 2300 milligrams a day for healthy adults and 1500 milligrams a day for those at risk of high blood pressure. That’s quite a difference. And although this message has been touted for over twenty years, it appears that few are following it or that these recommendations are too stringent for the majority of Americans.
Elevated sodium intake isn’t just occurring in American populations though. In fact, the average sodium intake appears to be similar on an international level. This means that there may be more to this whole sodium intake thing than we think. It also begs the question- are our recommendations wrong?
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The DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, can be used for patients with high blood pressure and is often recommended for diabetics because of the potential to lower their blood pressure. The diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure in as little as two weeks. Diabetics usually have blood pressure issues and are more prone to complications such as kidney disease. Diabetics are usually put on a blood pressure lowering drug called an ACE inhibitor that has protective properties for the kidneys.
The DASH diet consists of lowering sodium intake to less than 2400 mg per day, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and carbohydrate sources coming from whole grains. It also includes proteins coming from lean meats, fish and chicken, and moderate amounts of fats such as olive oil and nuts. The DASH diet has been endorsed by the American Heart Association, The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the Mayo Clinic. It also was used to form the new dietary guidelines.
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