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How to control your salt intake: Dr. Nina

How to control your salt intake: Dr. Nina

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Dr. Nina Radcliff

Dr. Nina Radcliff

It’s easy to dismiss salt as the “other person’s” problem – and that may be okay if you’re a lean twenty-something with a blood pressure of 110/60 but even these folks are likely to face issues with salt as they grow older.

So where do you fit in? At present, it’s estimated about two-thirds of American adults have hypertension or prehypertension, and the average 50 year old has a 90% chance of developing hypertension as they age. So as scientists say here in the United States, if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll benefit from cutting your dietary salt — which is in virtually everything you consume.

Most of the sodium we consume is in the form of salt — and while salt is essential for human health, your body can make do with remarkably small amounts of sodium. Unfortunately, human behavior can thwart nature’s checks and balances by taking in much more than needed. The major consequence is a rise in blood pressure, which leads to a heightened risk of heart attack, stroke and other heart-related diseases — along with premature death. And, too, diabetes, osteoporosis, dementia, sleep apnea, cancer, kidney disease and even obesity have been linked to over consumption of salt.

Intake guidelines

The recommended amount of sodium is 2,300 milligrams per day. If you’re on a salt-restricted diet, stay under 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

Interestingly, to perform its essential functions, the adult human body only requires 500 mg of sodium per day — and yet, on average, Americans consume 3,436 milligrams per day —more than double!!

Leading culprits: If you think all of the extra salt in processed foods might not be the best for your health or body, you’ll be interested to know the research agrees! The majority — more than three-quarters of your salt — comes from processed, frozen, packaged foods as well as foods consumed in restaurants, fast-food and purchased in grocery stores (even soft drinks have sodium). Used as a preservative or flavor enhancer in processed foods, the compound goes by many different names, but ultimately functions in the same way.

Common processed foods high in sodium include: baked goods; cheese; lunch meats, bacon and sausage; pasta meals (mac and cheese in a box, spaghetti in a can); pizza (frozen, fresh); snack foods (chips, some crackers); soup (canned, powdered); sauces and gravies; and packaged rice or pasta.

Also, salt consumption triggers the release of dopamine — a “happy” chemical released when exposed to something positive. It reinforces behaviors and encourages you to seek more of whatever caused the dopamine release.

Reducing salt intake

Here are ways to take in less salt each day:

• Study nutrition labels to determine sodium content per serving.

• When selecting canned or processed foods, pick a “low sodium,” “reduced sodium” or “no salt added” option. And note that “reduced sodium” by definition means a decrease by 25 percent from normal. The item may still have a large salt content.

• Be aware that sea salt and kosher salt contain the same amount of sodium as table salt

• Opt for water instead of diet sodas or sodas. Although having a can or two from time to time is not likely to impact your health, it adds up!

• Salt is a flavor enhancer that you probably use in your cooking or at the table which accounts for just a small amount of the average daily intake of sodium — less than 25 percent. Be mindful about use and you can stay under the recommended daily sodium intake when you avoid other sodium-containing ingredients.

• Choose fresh fruit and veggies whenever possible (instead of canned)

• Substitute salt with herbs, spices and other flavor-filled items such as vinegar, lemon juice, basil, oregano, rosemary, ginger, onion and garlic

• Remember, eating is a learned behavior — swap salt for new healthier options

Understanding specific terms (FDA)

Here are terms to look out for when choosing what to eat:

• No-Salt-Added/Unsalted: No salt added during processing but these products may not be salt or sodium-free unless stated

• Sodium-Free: Less than 5 milligrams per serving

• Very Low Sodium: 35 milligrams or less per serving

• Low Sodium: 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving

• Reduced (or Less) Sodium: 25% less sodium per serving than regular product

• Light in Sodium: Normal sodium level reduced by at least 50% per serving than regular product

The last two claims can be tricky because they’re often applied to food that is already high in sodium (i.e., a tablespoon of regular soy sauce has over 800 milligrams of sodium and a “reduced sodium” soy can still have about 600 milligrams of sodium.

Since most diets are too high in sodium, it’s important to pay attention to how much salt and food additives made with sodium are in the foods and drinks you consume.

Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions for Dr. Nina to editor@pressofac.com with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line. This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.

Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions for Dr. Nina to editor@pressofac.com with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line. This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.

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