Salt Reduction Could Be a Life Saver for Many

Did you know that by shaving just 3 grams of salt off their daily intake, Americans could prevent up to 66,000 strokes, 99,000 heart attacks and 92,000 deaths? As staggering as this figure is, according to researchers, such action could also save $24 billion in health costs per year!

According to Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo of the University of California at San Francisco:

“The benefit to the U.S. population would be comparable to cutting smoking by 50 %, significantly lowering obesity rates and giving cholesterol drugs to virtually everyone to prevent heart attacks… Such a goal is readily attainable.”

There seems little question that salt is widely overused in America, despite its well known contribution to high blood pressure and heart disease. At least 75% of this salt comes from that old demon, processed food. Its use is still rising with an average of men consuming typically 10.4 grams per day and women 7.3 grams.

It is mind boggling when you consider that research from a recent study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine clearly indicates that the reduction of one gram of salt would prevent 11,000 to 23,000 strokes, 18,000 to 35,000 heart attacks and 15,000-32,000 deaths from any cause.

Dr. Lawrence Appel and Cheryl Anderson of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore said the new study did not go far enough because they did not take into account how salt reduction would help children or reduce the risk of stomach cancer, kidney disease, congestive heart failure and osteoporosis. They wrote:

“Even if the federal government were to bear the entire cost of a regulatory program designed to reduce salt consumption, the government would still be expected to realize cost savings for Medicare, saving $6 to $12 in health expenditures for each dollar spent on the regulatory program.”

Salt is another name for its lesser-known moniker, sodium chloride. There are about 2.5 grams of sodium in 6 grams of salt. While both sodium and chloride are essential in the diet in small amounts, too much can contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension), which in turn substantially increases the risk of developing heart disease or stroke.

One way to limit your salt intake is to simply become more aware of it. You can do this by carefully reading food labels to determine sodium levels. Sometimes, it may read; “salt equivalent” but either way, you can utilize labels so that they can help you gauge the amount of sodium present in different foods and to select lower sodium options.

Why is sodium important to the human body?

All body fluids contain sodium, including blood, and its function is to stabilize the balance of fluids within the body. The human body must be able to regulate the level of sodium in the blood, which it does via the excretion of sodium through the kidneys and into the urine. Sodium also helps to generate electrical impulses in nerves and muscles, enabling the uptake of nutrients.

The human body requires almost as much salt as it does water. Even so, salt should never be added to an infant’s diet because their kidneys cannot excrete the excess of sodium.

In the words of Alicia Moag-Stahlberg, a research nutritionist at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association: “You cannot exist without sodium, but the amount we need is minor.”

Sodium in excess has been associated with an increased risk of developing stomach cancer and adverse effects on the kidneys, especially if there is some underlying abnormality. Too much sodium in the diet is also linked to high blood pressure or hypertension. One of the reasons hypertension is so deadly is because it carries no symptoms and yet it increases the risk of conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

The best way to deal with hypertension is to address the revamping of an entire diet regimen (fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products) rather than just focusing on one ingredient. Lifestyle is also a factor as being physically active, not smoking and maintaining a healthy body weight are all important factors to consider.

Salt is ubiquitous and available at a price almost anyone can afford. The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., has determined that the recommended safe minimum daily amount is about 500 milligrams with a maximum of 2,400 milligrams.

Once again, in the words of Moag-Stahlerg:

“Many Americans are consuming even higher amounts of salt, up to 6,000 milligrams a day. Many people argue that a healthy kidney can get rid of it [the excess], but in many cases, that happens at the expense of losing calcium.”

In ancient times, our ancestors lived in environments with little salt and they were not faced with these modern day problems. (They had others; being lunch for T-Rex for example).

So limit your salt intake and learn more about this in terms of your own personal health situation, but take it all with that proverbial grain of salt!

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  1. jjtinko says:

    No doubt about it. I cut back on salt several years ago.