As a nation, we're making dangerous choices. Every day we choose between convenience and our health – even our very lives.
It may seem unbelievable, but it is indeed true. Increasingly, we rely on processed foods for the mainstay of our meals. But who can blame us? It's a
proverbial jungle out there! Between the rigors of work, the hectic schedule of our family lives there's precious little time for anything else. Who wants to take the time to cook a full-fledged meal? It's all we can do to just get through the day in one piece. Anything we can do to make our lives even a little easier is well worth it.
But what if you were told that the amount of salt the average American uses in one day is nearly twice the maximum recommended limit? And, what if you knew that an organization like The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the ultimate dangers of excessive salt. In fact, the WHO is so concerned about the level of salt intake that it believes a global effort toward salt reduction is needed.
And what if, on top of all of this, you knew that excessive salt intake accounts for nearly half of all the fatal strokes – and half of the heart attacks – worldwide?
All three of these "what ifs" is true.
In this country alone, the average resident consumes the equivalent of almost two teaspoons of salt every day. And that's twice the maximum recommended limit.
The sad part is, you probably aren't even aware that you're eating that much salt. You could easily ingest that much salt and not even pick up a salt shaker and add it to your popcorn, French fries or your chicken in order to eat this amount. Most of the salt we eat is hidden salt. It's found in many of the processed foods we use daily. Salt is found in everything from canned soups to spaghetti sauce to frozen dinners.
We reach for these foods specifically because they're convenient. But the price we pay for that convenience is appearing extremely high. The link between salt and heart disease is intimate and very disturbing.
WHO acknowledges that that cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of death worldwide, killing nearly 13 million people yearly. Additionally, elevated blood pressure is the single largest cause of cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure is responsible for 62 percent of the cases of strokes and nearly 50 percent of the heart disease cases globally.
Salt: An Introduction
Within the last 20 years, salt has definitely been marketed as the bad guy. However, sodium is an essential nutrient for the proper functioning of the human body. We just couldn't live without it – literally.
Your body uses sodium to help maintain the proper balance of fluids in your body. It's also essential to the transmission of nerve impulses throughout your system. And it also influences the contraction and relaxation of your muscles.
Your kidneys have the job of regulating the amount of sodium that stays in your body. When the levels of this mineral begin to dip, the kidneys then eliminate the salt more slowly. When the kidneys discover that your body's sodium levels are high, then it increases the excretion of the salt through the urine.
It's when your body can't eliminate the sodium fast enough that the trouble begins. Then the nutrient begins to build up in the bloodstream. This naturally increases your blood volume, because the sodium attracts and holds water. The increased blood volume then makes your heart work harder at transporting the blood to all parts of your body. This extra work causes an increased pressure in your arteries.
Sometimes, health problems contribute to your body's inability to properly eliminate the salt from your system. Those individuals with congestive heart failure may find that their bodies don't evacuate the salt as they should. Moreover, those who suffer with chronic kidney disease may have this problem as well as those who are afflicted with cirrhosis of the liver.
Not every person is as "salt sensitive" as the next, so it appears. Those who are salt sensitive have bodies that naturally retain sodium more easily, making it more difficult to eliminate. Additionally, these people find that they are plagued with excess fluid retention and elevated blood pressure. If you discover that you fall into this category, then any extra sodium you consume only increases your chances of developing high blood pressure. Unfortunately, there are no physical symptoms to tell you that you have high blood pressure, which can eventually lead to cardiovascular and kidney diseases.
How do you know if you're salt sensitive? Many people who are aged 50 or older are, as are those who already have a health condition such as high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease and even diabetes are more vulnerable to the effects of salt on their bodies. If you and your primary health care practitioner haven't already discussed your salt intake, be sure to ask her about it. She has access to resources that may be of help to you.
Salt: How much is too much?
Currently, the average American consumes between nine to fifteen grams of salt daily. And this is the major contributing factor to high blood pressure, WHO explains. If we could only reduce our salt consumption by even six grams, it would reduce deaths from strokes by nearly 25 percent. This level of reduction would also reduce heart disease by nearly 20 percent. This reduction would translate into nearly 2.5 million lives being saved every year worldwide.
Health disease, though, isn't only the disease which worsens in the presence of salt. Excessive salt intake is also associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, asthma, obesity, and cancer of the stomach.
So how much salt should we be getting? The National Institute of Health recommends that healthy people consume no more than 2,400 grams daily. And if you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, the NIH suggests that you should ingest no more than 1,500.
And that's a great recommendation. But considering that so much of our salt intake is "beyond our control" – hidden in processed foods – how do you insure that you can adhere to these guidelines.
It's time to take control of your eating habits. It's going to be easier said than done. But, with a little perseverance at the grocery store, you can rein in the salt intake. And you can start by reading nutritional labels. The sodium content of every food is clearly marked. Boy, are you in for a big surprise!
Actually, if you've never paid much attention to salt and sodium before you might even be appalled. The average frozen dinner for example, contains more than 1,000 mg – or one gram – of sodium. Some of the dinners contain as much as 1,500 mg – or 1.5 grams. That's the recommendation of salt intake for an entire day if you suffer from high blood pressure.
You might be surprised to find that hidden in that submarine sandwich you had for lunch was a minimum of 800 mg to possible 1,800 mg of salt! Hot dogs fare little better. Depending on what you put on your dog, you can eat a lot of salt. A plain hot dog averages more than 600 mg of sodium. If you eat it as a corn dog with that corn meal coating it rises to nearly 1,000 mg.
Even if you go to your favorite pizza shop, you'll discover that your slice of pizza is laden with salt as well. Depending on the brand and the toppings, if you eat only one slice, you're getting between 500 and 800 mg of salt. And who eats only one slice?
Salt: How to Reduce Your Intake
With so much salt all around us where do we even begin to cut down on salt? And is it really worth it, if it's everywhere anyway?
Of course, it's worth trying to lower your salt intake. Your very health – perhaps even your life – depends on it. And how do you start? You begin with what is within your control.
Start with the salt shaker. Don't use it! Don't even put it on the kitchen table when you eat. That's right. Use any of the many other types of seasonings that you can easily find in the spices section of your grocery store.
Once you buy them, don't stuff them in the back of the kitchen cabinet. Make sure they're available to you and your family. In fact, bring them home and "advertise" them. Make sure your family knows how they can change the taste of the food they eat for the better.
Many times, we reach for the salt shaker purely out of habit. Jog your family's taste buds a little with different flavors. Instead of making the switch drudgery, promote it is as a positive step for improved food flavoring!
Don't add salt when cooking! Again, the premise here is "out of sight, out of mind." Instead of reaching for salt when you cook, reach for other types of seasonings. If you can't bring yourself to do that, then reduce the amount the recipe calls for by half. You won't be damaging the final taste of the food by slightly altering this one ingredient.
Avoid salty foods. Don't know which ones are salty? Usually processed meats and some types of fish are salty. Pickles are salt-laden, as is soy sauce (one teaspoon can contain as much as 1,000 mg!). Other salty foods include snacks like potato chips and pretzels as well as salted nuts.
Limit consumption of processed foods. Check out the sodium content on that frozen dinner before you pop it into the microwave. Be sure to check the sodium content of that boxed macaroni and cheese before you serve it to your family. This hidden salt adds up.
Carefully read nutritional levels. Keep in mind that when you read a nutritional label on any food, it only gives you the salt content for one serving. Review what the manufacturer considers a serving size. Many times the serving size is exceedingly small. It may be that you and your family are eating upwards of two portion sizes. Then you'll have to double the amount of salt on the label to discover what you're eating.
Choose fresh whenever possible. Instead of reaching for that bag of potato chips which may contain as much as 1,000 mg of sodium, grab for that apple which only has on average 1 mg. It'll provide you with lots more energy too!
Note: Some statements in this
article may not be approved by the FDA. This article is for informational
purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice.