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How Salt Affects Our Health

Submitted by Debra Dobies, MA, RD, LDN

The words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, but have different definitions. Salt, or sodium chloride, is a crystal-like compound found in nature and is used to preserve and flavor food. Sodium is a chemical element found in salt and is a mineral. Sodium is an essential nutrient and required by the human body in small quantities. Its functions are to maintain a balance of body fluids and electrolytes and aid in muscle contractions and nerve transmission.

The majority of Americans consume too much sodium, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th Edition. The average child 1 year and older eats about 3,440 mg of sodium each day. The recommended daily intake of sodium for children is less than 2,300 mg per day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 1 in 6 children has high blood pressure – a leading contributor for heart disease and stroke.

Adults are no better. The recommended sodium per day for adults is less than 2,300 mg. The American Heart Association recommends even less – 1,500 mg per day. Yet, the average adult man consumes 4,240 mg per day and the average adult woman consumes 2,980 mg per day.

While some sodium is found naturally in foods, much of the extra sodium we consume is found in processed or packaged foods and in the food we eat at restaurants or fast food establishments.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released voluntary guidelines for packaged food companies and restaurants to reduce their added salt content. The FDA has stipulated two goals:

  1. A 2-year target to reduce the average American’s daily sodium intake by 11.8% to 3,000 mg per day.
  2. A 10-year target to reduce sodium intake by 23.3% to 2,300 mg per day.

Consuming too much sodium has a negative effect on your health. It contributes to high blood pressure, which is the leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Heart disease and stroke are America’s first and third leading causes of death according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The Institute of Medicine (I.O.M.) found that populations that consume low amounts of sodium do not experience the increase in blood pressure with age as found in most Western countries.

According to the CDC, Americans consume nearly 50 % of their daily sodium from:

  • Breads and rolls
  • Natural and processed cheeses
  • Cold cuts and cured meats
  • Mixed meat dishes (beef stew, chili, and meatloaf)
  • Pizza
  • Fresh and processed poultry
  • Hamburgers, hot dogs, and submarine sandwiches
  • Snack foods such as chips, crackers, popcorn, and pretzels
  • Soups

The sodium content can vary from product to product; so, it is important to read labels or try to make more food at home.

Tips for Reducing Sodium Intake

  1. Read the nutrition label:  Choose foods and beverages lower in sodium.
  2. Cook your own food often:  Limit packaged and processed foods such as sauces, mixes, and instant products.
  3. Add non-sodium flavors:  Try no-salt seasonings, spices, herbs, and citrus fruit juice
  4. Buy fresh foods as often as possible:  Fresh meat, poultry, and seafood without added saline or saltwater.
  5. Check your vegetables:  Buy fresh, frozen without added sauces or seasonings, or low-sodium or no-salt-added canned vegetables.
  6. Wash away some sodium:  To remove some sodium, rinse canned vegetables, beans and tuna with water.
  7. Chose low-sodium or no-salt-added snacks and condiments.
  8. Select lower sodium restaurant meals:  Request your meals be prepared without salt or salted seasonings and that salad dressings or sauces be served on the side so that you can use less.

Avoiding using the salt shaker or not cooking with salt/ sodium will not be enough to meet your recommended daily sodium intake. By implementing these tips, you will take a step toward better health.

Always consult with your physician or healthcare provider before making any dietary/nutrition changes or commencing or changing your physical activity.  

If you need more nutrition information, Beebe can help. Beebe Healthcare has Registered Dietitians (RDs) available for consultation to provide patient education and medical nutrition therapy. An RD is available through Diabetes Management and Medical Nutrition Therapy with a referral from a primary care provider, other licensed provider, or specialist. The telephone number is (302) 645-3121. Patients at Tunnell Cancer Center have access to a Registered Dietitian.  Students at Cape Henlopen High School, Indian River High School and Sussex Central High School can also consult a Beebe Healthcare Registered Dietitian through their Wellness Centers.

Debra Dobies, MA, RD, LDN, is Beebe Healthcare's Ornish Reversal Program Registered Dietitian and Medical Nutrition Therapist. Beebe Healthcare's Ornish Reversal Program is now open in the Beebe Medical Arts Building at the Rehoboth Beach Health Campus. For more information, go to www.beebehealthcare.org/ornish
 

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