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Even if you think you eat a low salt diet, you’ll be surprised at how much added salt has entered our food chain, cautions Dr. Renu Lalwani, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Columbia University.

Salt, especially lowly table salt, is one of the most misunderstood foods. For many years now we’ve blamed salt for causing cardiovascular diseases – high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. But even as health conscious humans avoid the lure of table salt, the real culprit sneaks past, entering our foodchain, disrupting our diets, damaging our health, because many of us fail to recognize the actual troublemaker – added salt in processed foods we love to consume.

How much salt do we need and how much do we actually eat?

Our body needs only 1/4 teaspoon of salt every day. Guidelines recommend less than 2000 (2.0grams) of salt a day. Each teaspoon of table salt contains almost 2300 milligrams of sodium and, on average, we eat five or more teaspoons of salt each day.

Five teaspoons of salt is 20 times more than our body needs for an entire day!

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We get most of our sodium from table salt, but cooked, packaged and processed foods contain added salt – the main source of sodium in our diet.

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To put that in perspective – just one McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese = about 1190 mg of sodium. That’s one day’s worth of salt intake!

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In fact, the added salt we unwittingly consume eating out regularly or eating processed foods quickly adds up. The offenders are the most unlikely suspects -bread, pasta, cheese, chips, cereals, sauces, salad dressings, cake mixes, deli-meats, frozen foods, baking powder, canned food and even canned milk.

It’s really quite easy to exceed the recommended daily intake faster than using a saltshaker to enhance flavor.

 

The Benefits of Low Sodium

  • If you have high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or heart failure – cut sodium intake to 1500 to 1800 mg per day to lower blood pressure
  • If you suffer from borderline hypertension – reduce sodium intake and try to lose weight to remove the need for medications and reduce the risk of heart disease
  • If you have chronic kidney disease and heart failure, it will help reduce or prevent fluid retention – swollen legs, or fluid congestion in the lungs
  • Lower sodium intake can help to reverse heart enlargement and dilatation in patients with heart disease and heart failure
  • Low sodium has been associated with lower risk of dying from a stroke, and can reduce the risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis.

Eat fresh – that’s the simple answer. Most fresh foods – unprocessed meats, fish, grains, lentils, beans, vegetables and fruit have a low sodium content and are better for you.

What do sodium labels actually mean?

  • Very low sodium means: 35 mg or less per serving
  • Low sodium means: 140 mg or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium: sodium is reduced by 25% of usual level
  • Light or lite in sodium: sodium is reduced by 50% of usual level

If you enjoy the taste of salt in your food, cutting down is a challenge, but do try to make healthier food choices.

Salt is an acquired taste and you can retrain your taste buds to enjoy low salt food very quickly. Once they do, most people find that they do not miss salt as much.

The information presented in this article is offered for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as personal medical advice. You should consult with your personal physician/care giver regarding your own medical care.

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor to India Currents

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