What’s the Big Deal About Salt?

Of the many diet concerns, salt often seems to take a backseat to sugar.  But, like sugar, it also has a negative impact on your health.  Americans seem to have an insatiable appetite for salt; the Centers for Disease Control reports that 89 percent of adults and 90 percent of children consuming more than the recommended guidelines.

The blood pressure link

Salt is how we get most of the sodium in our diets. Although we need a little sodium, too much can be dangerous, explains nutrition expert and registered dietitian with the University of Miami Health System Sheah Rarback.

Dr. Carl Orringer, a cardiologist at UHealth, adds that too much sodium increases the risk for high blood pressure (or hypertension) which puts people at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

Heart disease is the leading causes of death in the United States and lowering your blood pressure through diet changes is one of the best ways to protect yourself.  “It’s been clearly established that any intervention that reduces salt helps to decrease high blood pressure,” says Dr. Orringer.

A study published in 2010 claimed that if everyone in the country lowered their salt intake to 1,200 milligrams (about ½ teaspoon of salt), 99,000 heart attacks and 66,000 strokes could be prevented saving up to 92,000 lives a year.

Older people tend to focus on their salt intake a bit more, but it is just as important to limit a child’s salt intake says Rarback. “People develop taste preferences early in their lives,” she explains. “When you give your child a diet that is low in salt, they are less likely to eat a diet high in sodium when they are older.”

Changing your diet

Luckily, small changes can decrease your salt intake quite a bit.  Rarback’s first suggestion is to decrease highly processed food; stay away from premade food like canned soup or ramen.  She also says that there are some surprise high sodium culprits which include:

  • Bread
  • Sandwich meat
  • Raw chicken and pork that has been injected with a salt solution
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cookies and pastries

“Use as many fresh ingredients as possible, and make sure to check the nutrition labels” Sheah recommends.  “Your goal is to eat less than 2300 milligrams of salt a day.” Also, limit how often you eat fast food or out at restaurants.  You would be surprised how much sodium is in some foods that don’t even taste salty, she adds.

Dr. Orringer also recommends that for most people, diets that are rich in potassium may help to lower blood pressure. Fruit, vegetables, low-fat dietary products, fish, and soy products are important parts of a heart-healthy diet that reduces blood pressure and blood cholesterol, both of which promote heart health.