gotten so complicated. Used to be, the worst youíd hear
about it was poor Lotís wife being turned into a pillar of
every time we contemplate lifting the shaker to douse our
eggs, each time we glance at a food label or eat a pickle, we
feel guilt pangs, hearing echoes of "too much sodium
causes (insert negative medical condition here)."
American Heart Associationís Sodium Reduction Initiative
urges us to #BreakUpWithSalt, limiting our average daily
intake of sodium to 2,300 milligrams from our current 3,400.
(To put this into perspective, a McDonaldís Artisan Grilled
Chicken Sandwich and a small order of fries contain about
England Journal of Medicine reported that reducing sodium by
400 milligrams a day could not only save 28,000 lives, it
could also save $7 billion in annual health care costs.
have Dr. James DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research
scientist who wrote a book called "The Salt Fix: Why the
Experts Got It All Wrongóand How Eating More Could Save Your
Life" (Harmony Books; $26.99). Too little salt, he says,
can lead to weight gain, chronic kidney disease, elevated bad
cholesterol and increased blood pressure and heart rate.
should we try to eliminate it entirely? Why do we need it
anyway? Hereís what red-blooded Americans need to know about
the white stuff thatís been around since practically the
beginning of time (see Genesis).
is this mineral important, itís "super important for
our survival," says Nancy DiMarco, director of the
Institute for Womenís Health at Texas Womanís University
and a professor in the schoolís department of nutrition and
helps to regulate nerve contractions, nerve transitions,
muscle contractions and facilitates the uptake of glucose into
tissue and muscle. Itís responsible for electrolyte balance,
for blood pressure. Itís like water and glucose, which I
tell students are important for survival."
a fancy way of saying that if the sodium level is too high,
"our bodies have the mechanism to bring it down,"
DiMarco says. "If itís too low, we have the mechanisms
to bring it up."
words, if we have too much salt in our bodies, our bodies get
rid of it through urination. Too little, and our kidneys
reabsorb it into our bloodstream.
wonít do that," says DiNicolantonio, adding that sugar
is more of a dietary culprit than salt. "When you consume
more sugar, you crave more."
catch is Ö
consumed so much sodium that this kidney flushing is repeated
over and over, our kidneys can get worn out, explains Jane
Brody in The New York Times. That can result in
"increased pressure put on blood vessels and excess fluid
surrounding body tissues," she writes.
donít think sodium is the issue," DiMarco says.
"There is an association between excess sodium in the
diet and the development of hypertension, but thereís never
been cause and effect."
book, DiNicolantonio writes that "there was never any
sound scientific evidence" that salt increases blood
pressure. But Dr. Wanpen Vongpatanasin, director of the
Hypertension Section at UT Southwestern Medical Center,
are multiple randomized studies that show that lowering salt
intake reduces blood pressure in patients with both mild,
uncomplicated hypertension and resistant hypertension,"
Vongpatanasin, holder of the Norman and Audrey Kaplan Chair in
Hypertension, writes in an email. "Reducing sodium intake
has been shown to decrease stiffness of the arteries, which is
another major risk factor for stroke and cardiovascular
blames Americansí unhealthy diet in general for the three
major causes of death: hypertension, cardiovascular disease
and stroke. "I think weíd go so much further by
altering how we eat instead of focusing on a single nutrient
like sodium. I get so frustrated with so many of these things
that eliminate whole food groups, and when you do that, you
eliminate a whole bunch of nutrients you canít find in other
types of food."
is a mineral that our bodies need, and itís in iodized table
salt. But when salt started getting a bad rap, people stopped
buying it and, thus, were cutting out iodine.
have seen since the 1980s that iodine intake has decreased by
almost 100 percent," says DiMarco. She has studied this
topic extensively and is in the process of writing a review
paper on a study TWU did of 110 women, 90 percent of whom didnít
know they should be buying iodized salt.
concern is that iodine is super important in the reproductive
years, ages 18 to 45," she says. "In the first three
months when the brain develops, itís absolutely essential
the fetus be receiving adequate amounts of iodine because of
its connection with cognitive abilities."
shakers arenít the problem.
DiMarco says, has "gotten a bad rap because of where it
finds itself, which is in all these processed foods."
to webmd.com, 5 percent of the sodium we consume comes from
salt added during cooking, 6 percent from salting food at the
table and 12 percent from foods that are natural sources of
sodium. The remaining 75 percent comes from processed foods.
For example, a half-cup serving of Campbellís Chicken Noodle
Soup has 890 milligrams of sodium, which is more than a third
of the recommended daily requirement. And who among us eats
only a half-cup of soup?
diets low in salt, DiNicolantonio says, creates cravings and
leads people "to eat all these processed foods to get
salt. They should be using real salt on real food."
to go overboard
the most part, the addition of salt that chefs and cooks do is
to enhance flavor already existing," says Chris LaLonde,
culinary coordinator and chef instructor at El Centroís Food
and Hospitality Institute. "Thatís how we think of it,
as a flavor enhancer, not a flavor in itself."
DiNicolantonio: "Weíre more likely to eat healthier
foods if we add salt."
finally, the all-around health secret
answer to everything," DiMarco says, "is to eat
fruits and vegetables. I tell my students the practice of good
nutrition is not rocket science.
doesnít take a genius to eat well. You just have to be
conscientious and mindful of what youíre putting in your
mouth every day."
leads to these tips:
fresh fruits and vegetables.
labels. Aim for those with less than 140 milligrams of sodium
per serving. Top sources of salt in the American diet, says
Nancy DiMarco, are bread and rolls, pizza, cold cuts and cured
potassium. "If we could balance our sodium with more
potassium, weíd be a lot healthier," DiMarco says. Good
sources include bananas, apricots, spinach and potatoes.
home. Restaurant meals usually contain high amounts of sodium.