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Salt: The Important Facts You Should Know
Is your salt shaker killing you?

Salt is a dietary mineral that's essential to all animal life on earth. We use it to regulate the fluid balance in our bodies. It also helps preserve food and adds flavoring to the majority of pre-packaged items found in grocery stores.

Unfortunately people around the world are eating far too much salt, and it's killing us. In fact, an analysis published in Volume 370, Issue 9604 of The Lancet Chronic Diseases Series concluded that if global salt intake could be cut by just 15%, 8.5 million deaths would be prevented by 2015. That means more than a million people are dying every year from consuming too much salt!

Eating too much salt has been linked to high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack, stroke and even impaired blood vessel function. It's the silent killer few are willing to talk about.

Now I want to make one thing clear. I'm not saying everybody should stop eating salt. I'm saying as a nation, we need to cut down to levels that are healthy.

Just how much salt is healthy? Let's see if you can answer this multiple-choice question.

QUESTION: How much salt does the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest a healthy adult should consume daily?

  1. 1 Tablespoon
  2. 2 Tablespoons
  3. 1 Teaspoon
  4. 2 Teaspoons

ANSWER: (c) 1 teaspoon or about 2,300 milligrams. That's the TOTAL amount you should take in from everything you eat and drink. However, the average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily. That's nearly a third more than we should.

The exact amount each person requires can vary greatly. People who are active or sweat a lot generally need more while inactive people need less. Fortunately, figuring out approximately how much you need is relatively simple.

  1. If you work out or sweat a lot, take the total amount of calories you should be eating and multiply that number by 125%.
  2. If you don't exercise, simply take the total calories and multiply it by 100%.
Once you have an idea how much salt you need, it's important to track it so you know if you're getting too much.
Learn where salt is hiding. This is where it gets a little tricky. Salt is added to everything from breakfast cereals to canned vegetables. Packaged meals often have more than half the United States Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) in a single serving. Salt is routinely added to so many different foods, that when companies want to stand out they make a point of putting "No Salt Added" on the label.

In order to cut back on excess salt is in your diet, follow these simple suggestions.

Take the salt shaker off the table. Put it away in a cabinet and stop adding it to food once it's prepared. You might be surprised how many things taste fine just the way they are.

Buy vegetables that are fresh, frozen plain or canned without added salt. Something as simple as a can of tomatoes can have over 800 milligrams of sodium lurking in a single serving. The "No Salt Added" tomatoes have around 50 milligrams per serving.

Substitute lemon juice, herbs and spices whenever salt is called for in a recipe. When you use less salt in a dish it allows the rich flavors of all the other ingredients to come out.

Skip the breaded, marinated and processed meats for the unprocessed ones. You'll spend less money and can use the spices you enjoy.

Read the nutrition labels in the supermarket. Check the sodium against the total calories. If the sodium is more than 125% the total number of calories, choose another brand or food.

One thing you shouldn't bother with, is switching from one type of salt to another for health reasons. All salt, no matter what form it comes in, has about the same sodium content when compared ounce for ounce.

There are basically three forms of salt used for human consumption.

  1. Unrefined Salt Unrefined salt like sea salts come in different colors and are distinguished by their grain, the minerals they're mixed with and the methods used to harvest them.

  2. Refined Salt Refined salt, more commonly called table salt is often mined or brought to the surface through injected water. If refined salt has any extraneous minerals attached, they're removed.

  3. Iodized salt is simply refined salt mixed with a minute amount of potassium iodide, sodium iodide or iodate. The iodized salt is then able to prevent and remedy iodine deficiency, which is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation.

Start tracking your sodium today for better health.


SPECIAL NOTE:

In a study published in the May 4th (2011) issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers concluded that people who had the lowest intake of salt were at a higher risk of dying. Unfortunately the study was severely flawed.

The people who consumed the least sodium may have been ill since their intake was so much lower than the average in the study. (1,100 milligrams a day versus 4,000 milligrams a day.) The sodium was measured by analyzing urine, which led to another problem. Subjects who were documented as consuming the lowest amount of sodium also provided the least amount of urine, which means they might not have collected it all.

Yet another problem is that people who exercise more tend to consume more food (and sodium), yet the researchers didn't make any adjustments for their physical activities.

Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health put it best when he said, "Take this study with a huge grain of salt, and then dispose of it properly."


UPDATE - 3/15/2017 - Study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Sodium Intake and All-Cause Mortality Over 20 Years in the Trials of Hypertension Prevention

In this analysis, researchers looked at the results of two previous studies on over 3,000 people. They found that over 20 years, for every additional 1,000 milligrams of sodium someone consumed a day (over 2,300), their death risk rose by 12 percent.

Looking at it another way, if you consumed less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, you were 25 percent LESS likely to die than someone who took in between 2,300 and 3,600 milligrams a day. Make sure you're not taking in too much.


UPDATE - 11/1/2017 - Study first published April 17, 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation

Increased salt consumption induces body water conservation and decreases fluid intake

For years we’ve known people are eating too much salt, hidden in everyday foods. Now in a strictly controlled study, where nothing but the amount of salt changed, researchers discovered that higher levels of salt made the participants hungrier. When the subjects were eating the higher salt diet, they also drank less water.

This has profound implications for the health of Americans. When we eat highly processed foods that are high in sodium, it makes us hungry. Then we eat MORE highly processed foods high in sodium, and we get even more hungry. Over time even small amounts of extra calories increase the risk for obesity, diabetes as well as cardiovascular and neurovascular disease risk.

If you’re dealing with excess weight, limiting the amount of salt in your diet may help you drop some of the pounds.

How much do you know about salt?
Click Here to take our salt quiz.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.

3/15/2009
Updated 8/1/2011
Updated 3/15/2017
Updated 11/1/2017