Banishing the Salt Shaker Is Not Enough

Smiling senior woman checking list in supermarket

March 12 – 18, 2018 Is World Salt Awareness Week

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently noted that only half of the 75 million adults in America who have hypertension (high blood pressure) have it under control. One reason, says the expert team, is that people with hypertension often fail to take the medications that could help keep it under control. As hypertension typically has no symptoms, it might be “out of sight, out of mind,” even as it raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, vascular dementia, vision loss, kidney disease and other dangerous health conditions.

Poor medication compliance is only part of the story. We’ve known for years that high salt (sodium) intake raises the risk of hypertension. Most of us are aware that we should limit the amount of salt that we eat. Despite this, say experts, Americans have not cut their salt intake. Indeed, people who already have high blood pressure are consuming more salt than they did at the turn of the century!

“We all tell our patients to limit sodium in their diet, and we try to educate them about sodium content in food products, but it is clear that we are not having enough of an effect on people's diets,” said Dr. Elena Dolmatova of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “We need to find a way to address this so that the message actually gets to people. People shouldn't wait until they have a heart attack before taking action to limit sodium."

Dolmatova presented her study last year at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology (ACC). She stressed that while doctors can prescribe a number of medications to treat hypertension, these drugs cost money and can have side effects, so lifestyle modifications should be the first choice. We should watch our weight, get enough exercise—and high on the list is to limit our salt intake.

What is the problem with salt?

Explains the ACC, “Excess sodium consumption increases the risk of heart disease because it draws additional water into the bloodstream, raising the volume—and consequently, the pressure—of the blood as it flows through blood vessels. This increased blood pressure creates strain on the heart and cardiovascular system.”

The World Action on Salt & Health (WASH), sponsor of World Salt Awareness Week, offers five steps we can take to cut back on our salt consumption:

  1. Check food labels before you buy to help you choose less salty options.
  2. Drain and rinse canned vegetables and beans; better yet, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  3. Gradually add less salt to your favorite recipes; your taste buds will adapt.
  4. Use herbs, spices, garlic and citrus in place of salt to add flavor to food.
  5. Take salt and salty sauces off the table so younger family members won’t develop the habit of adding salt.

Yes, says WASH, salt is even bad for children. Eating too much salt during childhood increases blood pressure throughout life, raising a person’s risk of heart attacks and stroke. And seniors, of course, are strongly cautioned to cut back their salt consumption. As WASH points out, removing the salt shaker is only the beginning. All kinds of hidden salt lurks in the food products we purchase at the grocery store and when we’re dining out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a list of the top 10 sources of sodium in the average American diet. This rogue’s gallery provides almost half the sodium we eat each day. Some of these might surprise you!

  1. Breads and rolls
  2. Pizza
  3. Sandwiches
  4. Cold cuts and cured meats
  5. Soups
  6. Burritos and tacos
  7. Savory snacks (such as chips, popcorn, pretzels, snack mixes and crackers)
  8. Chicken
  9. Cheese
  10. Eggs and Omelets

You can find more information about cutting back on sodium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Action on Salt & Health, the American Heart Association and the National Kidney Foundation.

This article is not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Discuss your ideal blood pressure level and sodium reduction goals with your doctor.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2018.

Cooking without salt doesn’t have to leave you feeling deprived! Find some delicious alternatives in the “Yummier … And Healthier … Than Salt” puzzle in this issue of the Assisting Hands Hand in Hand newsletter.