The amount of salt that is safe for human consumption has been the subject of controversy for a century, and this debate is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. A variety of studies of varying quality linking sodium intake and health status have rocked the pendulum back and forth, inhibiting the regulation of sodium restriction in most foods on the market. Some people are especially sensitive to sodium’s ability to raise blood pressure, but given how common high blood pressure is and how difficult it is to avoid consuming too much salt, many experts believe the safest approach is to lower sodium levels in the body altogether. prepared and processed foods.
More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, a condition that increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and which for many people is exacerbated by too much sodium. A rise in blood pressure of just 4 millimeters – say, from 130 to 134 millimeters of mercury – can jeopardize the health of some people, and for those who are particularly sensitive to salt, it can rise by 10 millimeters or more of mercury. a typical high-salt diet. In 2010, a Stanford University team calculated that reducing about 350 milligrams of sodium per day (less than one-sixth teaspoon) would lower systolic blood pressure by just 1.25 millimeters of mercury, but prevent about 1 million strokes and heart attacks.
A new study in 600 villages in rural China, involving 20,995 people known to be at high risk of stroke, showed that replacing regular table salt with reduced sodium salt significantly reduced the incidence of cardiovascular events and related their deaths during the average follow-up period. less than five years.
Protection took place in households that used modified table salt in which potassium chloride replaced 30% sodium chloride, although there was no change in the use of other rich sources of sodium, such as soy sauce and monosodium glutamate. Fifteen years earlier, a similar study among elderly veterans in Taiwan who consumed potassium-fortified salt reduced deaths from cardiovascular disease by 41% in less than three years.
Currently, the sodium in the typical American diet is more than a third higher than the American Heart Association’s recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams for healthy people, and more than double the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the association as ideal for people with high blood pressure. The actual physiological requirement for sodium is only 220 milligrams per day, so these recommended amounts provide a huge margin of safety.
The human species evolved on a very low sodium diet of 200 to 600 milligrams per day. In fact, our bodies are designed to store sodium and get rid of potassium, which explains why a high sodium diet can be a problem. The body retains excess sodium, increasing the likelihood of painful effects.
Prior to refrigeration, salt was prized for its ability to preserve food and was prized so highly that it was used as currency. However, salt has now become a zest for doctors who treat heart disease, hypertension and kidney disease, as well as other deadly diseases. While doctors have long argued that Americans should consume less salt, regulatory mechanisms are spinning at an icy speed, and changing people’s taste buds is just as difficult.
How the food industry is solving the salt problem
Back in 1979, an advisory group commissioned by the FDA recommended that the status of salt be reviewed as “generally recognized as safe.” But the agency only asked the food industry to voluntarily reduce the amount of salt used in commercial foods. Now, at least the amount of sodium in packaged foods has been added to food labels, giving consumers an edge if they take the time to compare brands before heading to the checkout.
The persistent salt problem is discussed in detail in the excellent book published last year, The Salt Wars, The Battle for the Greatest Killer in the American Diet by Michael F. Jacobson, former executive director of the Center for Social Science. Interest, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington DC.
Without waiting for the regulatory blow, Jacobson told me that “some companies have made real efforts to reduce the sodium in their products. Companies can use a lot of tricks. “
For example, in canned tomato soup, Campbell’s replaced a quarter of common salt with potassium chloride, reducing the sodium content from 760 to 480 milligrams per cup, without affecting consumer perception. Nabisco cut the sodium in Wheat Thins, my favorite snack cracker, from 370 to 180 milligrams per ounce, and General Mills reduced the sodium in the wheat flakes my sons grew up on from 370 to 185 milligrams per ounce. For those who love crunchy chips, check out the Tortilla Chips from CVS Abound, which contain just 75 milligrams of sodium per ounce (about 11 chips).
Tips for reducing sodium intake
Companies have found that the gradual reduction in sodium in their products and the lack of fanfare about it, such as avoiding claims that they are “low in sodium,” are actually driving consumer acceptance. Most people don’t even notice the change. But you may not have to wait for companies to do the job. For example, you can reduce the salt content of many canned foods, such as beans, by rinsing them in a colander. Or try my trick of diluting salt in canned soups: First fill a bowl or saucepan with fresh spinach and other quick-cooked or pre-cooked vegetables, then add the soup and reheat it in the microwave or saucepan.
If you’re hoping to improve your health by cutting back on sodium, one trick is to skip cold turkey. I and many others have found that it is relatively easy to reduce the high salt salt preference by gradually using and consuming less salt. As your taste buds adjust, the high-salt foods you once liked are likely to taste unpleasant and salty and therefore easy to pass up.
In cooking, instead of adding salt when preparing a recipe, try adding salt to the finished product, which is likely to delight your palate with significantly less salt. Seasoning foods with citrus juice, hot pepper flakes, or other caustic herbs and spices can significantly replenish salt deficiencies. You can also eat less bread; As a category, bread and other baked goods contribute more to Americans’ sodium intake than any other food.
But an even bigger contribution is likely to come from the food prepared in the restaurant, which Jacobson calls a salty minefield. I noticed that the next day after lunch at a restaurant, I weigh about 2 pounds more, not because I ate 2 extra pounds of food, but because the excess salt in what I ate holds so much water in my body.
Instead of government regulations to restrict sodium, consumers can write to the manufacturers of their favorite commercial products asking them to consider reducing the amount of salt they use.