Salt-Where is the flavor?
Salt is important for adding flavor to food and preserving food. Salt is also found in products used for baking such as in baking soda used to help dough rise. Salt is made up of two minerals sodium and chloride, which are present as 40% of sodium and 60% of chloride. Sodium is important for our muscles to contract and relax, for our brain to work well (sending and receiving messages, sending and receiving impulses) and for controlling fluid balance in our bodies; electrolytes contain sodium. The kidneys help to regulate sodium (if we don’t have enough, the kidneys save some, if we have too much salt the kidneys remove it). When the kidneys don’t regulate well then we keep more when we should eliminate it in urine.
Ninety percent of US adults are expected to develop high blood pressure over their life time. Among African Americans, over 40% have high blood pressure with most developing the condition at a younger age. We are eating too much sodium which is leading to health problems including high blood pressure. This increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and headaches. Among American adults, 75 million (29% or 1 in 3) have high blood pressure. Also, 1 in 3 have prehypertension (higher than normal but not in high blood pressure range). It is important to know the numbers for normal, pre-hypertensive and hypertensive blood pressure. A systolic pressure of less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic pressure of less than 80 mmHg are considered normal. The following readings:
120-139/80-89 mmHg = prehypertension; risk for hypertension
140/90 mmHg = hypertension
How much sodium is enough? There is controversy surrounding the current recommendations of consuming less than 2300 mg of sodium per day. The concern is that some individuals might have an intake of sodium that is dangerously low for the body to function optimally. However, because individuals are generally consuming processed foods, prepared foods, fast foods and eating out more frequently, the recommendation remain cautious as shown below.
- We need less than 2300 mg (1 teaspoon) a day. Most people are eating close to 2 teaspoons or more (around 3400 mg/day)
- When we have high levels of salt in the blood, we retain more water in the blood and this increases the overall amount of blood in our blood vessels causing the heart to work very hard to move the blood.
- We need to aim for around 1500 to 2300 mg of salt, around 1 teaspoon a day.
- Mediterranean and DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diets have low sodium, increased fruits and vegetables, increased fiber, high potassium.
- Herbs and spices can be used in cooking to provide natural flavor to foods, as the level of sodium is reduced.
Where does the salt come from? The majority, 75-77 % comes from sodium chloride/salt in processed food, prepackaged foods and eating out (fast food, restaurants). A small amount is from added salt during meals and small amount is found naturally in fresh foods. Salty food sources include: Breads, rolls, pizza, tacos, burritos, cheese, lunchmeats, canned soups, sandwiches, chips, popcorn, condiments, dips and sauces, pretzels, crackers and various types of salty snack mixes. We need to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of food sources that also provides potassium (we need about 4700 mg/day). We don’t get enough potassium. Potassium helps keep sodium levels balanced (too much potassium is not good for health)
Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about potassium levels especially if there are kidney or heart problems. Food sources for potassium include:
Bananas, plantains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, oranges, tomato paste, tomato puree, avocados and pomegranates. Eating a varied balanced diet and eating in moderation help provide potassium and other minerals and vitamins as well as fiber.