Unfortunately, these are myths. All of us should be concerned about our sodium intake.
Of course, excessive sodium in the diet increases the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension); the consequences are stroke or heart disease.
Now comes the interesting part. Sodium has a nefarious effect on the kidneys. In the Nurses’ Health Study, approximately 3,200 women were evaluated in terms of kidney function, looking at the estimated glomerular filtration rate (GFR) as related to sodium intake.
Over 14 years, those with a sodium intake of 2,300 mg had a much greater chance of an at least 30 percent reduction in kidney function, compared to those who consumed 1,700 mg per day.
Why is this important? Kidneys are one of our main systems for removing toxins and waste. The kidneys are where many initial high blood pressure medications work.
If the kidney loses function, it may be harder to treat high blood pressure. Worse, it could lead to chronic kidney disease and dialysis. Once someone has reached dialysis, most blood pressure medications are not very effective.
Ironically, the current American Heart Association recommended maximum sodium intake is 2,300 mg per day, or one teaspoon, the same level that led to negative effects in the study. However, Americans’ mean intake is twice that level, which is well above an “ideal” recommended limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day.
If the salt shaker is not the problem, what is? Most of our sodium comes from processed foods, packaged foods and restaurants.
If you are working to decrease your sodium intake, become an avid label reader. One approach is to choose products that have 200 mg or fewer per serving indicated on the label. Foods labeled “low sodium” have fewer than 140 mg of sodium, but foods labeled “reduced sodium” have 25 percent less than the full-sodium version, which doesn’t necessarily mean much.
Soy sauce has 1,000 mg of sodium per tablespoon, but low-sodium soy sauce still has about 600 mg per tablespoon. Condiments, where serving sizes are small, add up very quickly. Mustard has 120 mg per teaspoon. Most of us use far more than one teaspoon of mustard.
Sodium hides in all kinds of foods that don’t necessarily taste salty, such as breads, soups, cheeses and salad dressings. I recommend serving all sauces on the side, so you can control how much — if any — you choose to use.
Is sea salt better than table salt? High amounts of salt are harmful, and the type is not as important. The only difference among them is slight taste and texture variation. In addition to the health issues, salt tends to dampen your taste buds, masking the flavors of food.
As you reduce your sodium intake, you might be surprised at how quickly your taste buds adjust. In just a few weeks, foods you previously thought didn’t taste salty will seem overwhelmingly salty, and you will notice new flavors in unsalted foods.
If you’re looking for a new use for your salt shaker, there are uses for salt that are actually beneficial.
According to the Mayo Clinic, gargling with ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water significantly reduces symptoms of a sore throat from infectious disease, such as mononucleosis, strep throat and the common cold. From personal experience, I can attest that this works.
Remember, if you want to season your food at a meal, you are much better off asking for the pepper than the salt.