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Essential Facts You Need to Know About Salt: Before You Pick Up the Shaker, Read This!

By Sheryl Kraft

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"I guess we're going to have to cook a lot of our own dinners from now on, since Mom is not going to be using salt."
My younger son told me that his older brother muttered this to him after reading all about my trip to Pritikin. You see, my empty nest fills back up usually on Sundays. My sons come home to roost for the night and enjoy a big family meal. The way I see it is that these two 20-something busy boys on a budget rarely get to eat good food, so why not make it a special night for them?

If you're reading this post, my dear sons, I will credit you here publicly and say this: you got that right. Be prepared.

There's been so much in the news about salt as a culprit. About two years ago, I interviewed Michael Jacobson, the founder of Center for Responsible Nutrition, after his office contacted me to see if I would write a story on salt for AARP Magazine. (The magazine didn't bite, but nonetheless I never quite forgot Jacobson's passion for the subject and some of the scary details).

Yet, despite that enlightening interview and the attacks that salt has been under, I didn't really change my habits all that much. They were never that bad to begin with, I thought. After all, I never use a salt shaker at the table. When I go to a restaurant I always ask for "no added salt." I buy low or no-salt varieties of foods. I am not a person who likes salty food; I much prefer sweet.

My salt was coming from somewhere, though, since I developed pre-hypertension and was put on a diuretic. (Did you know that almost 80 percent of our salt comes from processed and restaurant foods? Apparently, neither did I).

But this week I finally got it.

This week, I'm eating fresh foods prepared with no added salt. You won't find a salt shaker anywhere here; instead there are huge pepper mills on each table plus a variety of hot sauces, fresh herbs and a wonderful, thick aged balsamic vinegar.

And while I truly am enjoying the food and don't even miss the salt, what I'm enjoying even more is this: just two days into this new style of eating, I'm off my blood pressure medication. Not only that, but my blood pressure was never this low even WITH my medication. Now, if that's not evidence of salt's effect on blood pressure, I don't know what is.

Oh, it's just high blood pressure, I can take a pill for that, you might think. But tell me this: if a smoker had a cough, would you recommend they take cough syrup, or lay off what's causing the cough in the first place? Here's a shocking finding:

A recent University of Southern California study found that reducing salt intake by 1200 mg/day (or less than one-third) would save as many lives over the next 10 years as if ALL AMERICAN SMOKERS QUIT TOMORROW, FOR GOOD.

There's so much more to tell, but I'll try to be brief and highlight the most shocking - and important - facts, courtesy of James J. Kenney, Ph.D and registered dietitian, Pritikin's Nutrition Research Specialist.

Salt kills far more Americans than tobacco (or anything else).
Salt toxicity and subsequent hypertension (HTN) is the number 1 destroyer of kidneys.
HTN and salt toxicity are major causes of the 1.5 million heart attacks each year.
HTN is a major risk factor for stroke and senility.

This matters> Research shows that cutting sodium intake to about 1,200 to 1,500 mg/day (depending on age) would virtually eliminate hypertension and other ills caused largely by added, or second-hand, salt. Did you know that one plate of restaurant food can pack between 5,000 and 7,000 mg. of sodium?

Do you know how much that is?  Hint: not all that much. The facts are here:

1/4 teaspoon salt = 600 mg sodium
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,200 mg sodium
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,800 mg sodium
1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

How to cut the salt? The best way is to eat more fresh, unprocessed foods like fruits, veggies, beans, low-and-non-fat dairy products, and lean cuts of meat and poultry.

Government health experts estimate that deep cuts in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives a year.

That innocuous-looking, tiny crystal never before seemed so threatening.

Click here for more information about shaking the salt habit.

Read Less Salt, Longer Life?

Experts urge FDA to lower salt

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Comments

I rarely salt anything, although I'm sure I still get plenty in processed foods. But my husband and I notice, especially when we're traveling on cruise ships, just how salty the food is. We've obviously become used to little salt in our diets. It's amazing how much better the food tastes, don't you think?

Yes, it's those processed and restaurant foods that really pack in the salt. And we've gotten so used to the flavor that it's sometimes a shock to taste something that is salt-free. But there are many non-salt substitutes to make up for a lack of flavor, like spices, balsamic and other vinegars, and dried spice blends. It's just a matter of education and experimenting to see what works and what doesn't.

I read about the controversy in the New York Times, after President Obama urged less salt for the nation as a whole and the salt production folks protested. I-had-no-idea. Thank you for filling me in on salt. I have been using more of late and will think twice in the future.

(I cut out all salt when I was pregnant. Since salt makes our bodies retain water, so we get heavier. Also, without salt, the muscles that need to work to push out a baby work more efficiently.)

I wish you luck with your future efforts, Alexandra. We have to keep reminding ourselves, since we've become so accustomed to picking up the shaker.

Depressing news for salt-lovers. Not sure I can live without it.

I think most of us love salt. Sorry to be Debby Downer, Ruth. But even if we cut it down and not completely out, we're still the better for it.

No...salt? For those of us who need a little help, do you have any salt substitute suggestions? I added soy sauce to my stir fry tonight--chances are that's loaded with sodium?

Oh, soy sauce is awful. I learned that even the "low sodium" variety is still loaded with salt. Just one tablespoonful of regular soy sauce has about 950 mg. of sodium; the low-salt has 750 mg. When you weigh that against the fact that you really should not exceed 2,300 mg. per day (lower if you have high blood pressure), you see how bad it can be...

I knew there had to be many benefits from eating freah foods -- which we do at our house, because we like them best and they are fun to cook -- but low salt hadn't occurred to me. thanks for the information, and congrats on getting off your blood pressure meds this healthy way.

thanks, Kerry. The trick will be to keep it that way in an "unprotected" environment. I'm trying my best!

It's amazing how fast you are seeing results. I love love love salt. But you are inspiring me to cut down on it!

I'm amazed, too. The results were so much quicker than I ever could have anticipated. Good luck on your efforts to cut down!

i had no idea how much salt we involuntarily consume when eating out. i find it amazing that you were able to go off your hypertension meds. in such a short period of time without salt. that's great news.

Most people don't realize that either. Especially if your taste buds are not sensitive to salt. We are so accustomed to it that we don't even notice when something is salted, until we taste it without the salt. But your taste buds become accustomed to that, too.

While I am a non-salter from forever, I was recently told by a friend whose wife broke her hip that the doctor recommended that she have more salt in her diet to protect bone strength. Both in their later 60s, she had gone no-salt because her husband was hypertensive. This detail has interested me ever since he told me and I'm trying to learn more.

Note my correction…I was thinking of two separate issues when I posted. This is what I meant to write: While I am a non-salter from forever, I was recently told by a friend whose wife was in the hospital that the doctor recommended that she have more salt in her diet due to low blood pressure. Both in their later 60s, she had gone no-salt because her husband was hypertensive. This detail has interested me ever since he told me and I'm trying to learn more.

Thanks for clarifying, Meredith. That makes good sense.

Cripes! Salt fear! I don't eat any prepared or processed foods (besides soy sauce for asian cooking) so I hope that I can buy a small reprieve for my salt shaker...

Absolutely, Stephanie. Prepared and processed foods account for a HUGE amount of our salt intake, so I think you're in good shape. As for the soy sauce, last night I had sushi. Instead of dipping it in soy, I made a mixture of rice wine vinegar, ginger, and wasabi - and you know what? It was a very good stand-in, minus all the sodium!

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