Sodium, the main component of salt is definitely an important mineral that is essential for proper functioning of our bodies, but the average American diet contains way too much of the stuff. Something like 80% of the sodium that the average person consumes comes from processed and restaurant foods. This is a great argument for cooking at home! Did you know that for many millennia we humans did not eat any added salt? We consumed only the sodium present in natural foods which added up to only about 1000 mg sodium per day. These days, the average intake of sodium in the U.S. today is about 3500 mg/day! To put this in perspective, a McDonalds Quarter Pounder has 1110 mg of sodium and if you have the large fries with it, add another 290 mg to that. And that is just in one meal!
Now you might have heard that excess dietary salt is a huge cause of increasing blood pressure and research shows that we Americans have a 90% lifetime probability of developing high blood pressure! Whoa! Did you know that even if your blood pressure is normal now, if you continue to eat the typical American diet, you will be at risk? Pretty scary and here’s more: research shows that elevated blood pressure accounts for 62% of strokes and 49% of coronary heart disease. So, even if you eat an otherwise healthy diet, and your arteries are free of plaque, high blood pressure late in life will damage the delicate blood vessels of the brain which will increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. The American Heart Association has even recognized the significant risks of high blood pressure and has recently dropped their recommended maximum sodium intake from 2300 mg to 1500 mg.
Excess salt is not only a villain for causing high blood pressure, but here are some other baddies salt has in its repertoire to destroy your health:
Damages the cardiovascular system: Did you know that recent research has found that blood vessel function is suppressed within a mere 30 minutes following a high salt meal?
Damages to the kidneys: High salt intake stresses the kidneys, and is associated with a decline in kidney function.
Calcium loss from bone: High salt intake is a risk factor for osteoporosis because too much sodium promotes calcium loss in the urine which leads to calcium loss from bone and therefore decreased bone density. This is true even if there is adequate calcium in the diet!
Ulcers & stomach cancer: A high salt diet also increases growth of the ulcer-promoting bacteria H. pylori in the stomach, which is also a risk factor for stomach and gastric cancer.
Asthma: In asthma patients, research has shown that high dietary sodium may increase severity of the disease.
So, hold the salt. It’s important to reduce salt intake for those who already have elevated blood pressure, but limiting added salt is essential for all of us to remain in good health. Please note that those cool, exotic sea salts that you see in your favorite grocery store are still salt. All salt originates from the sea and contains over 98% sodium chloride, and it is not health-promoting. Sea salts do contain small amounts of trace minerals, but the amounts are insignificant compared to those in natural plant foods. If you are eating plenty of nutrient dense plant foods, you are getting enough sodium. But, I get it. You also want your food to taste good. So, try reducing the amount of added salt to your food a little at a time. You’ll be surprised how fast your taste buds will adjust and you will discover a whole new world of the delicious flavors that are naturally in foods. Like I mentioned earlier in the post, consider cooking at home more. That way you can better control the sodium content in your food. Also, check out some recipe books that will help inspire you like the Eat to Live Cookbook by Dr. Joel Fuhrman and Forks over Knives: The Cookbook by Del Sroufe.