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Pass on the Salt?

As part of ongoing efforts to advocate for healthier citizens, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has added salt to his list of “unhealthy” habits to kick.  This campaign to lower sodium intake is questioned by experts who indicate that this may serve as an experiment with unintended consequences.  Are you eating too much salt?

First, keep in mind that salt is an absolutely necessary nutrient. It is used by doctors for many medical reasons, including everything from cleaning wounds and re-hydrating both orally and intravenously for proper electrolyte balance. In fact, the British Medical Journal called ORT (oral rehydration therapy) “the most important medical advance of [the 20th] century.” Chefs and cooks use salt to flavor and preserve food.  And we are all familiar with the use of salt to add essential iodine to our diet to prevent diseases such as goiter, cretinism, and iodine-based mental retardation.

Second, as with most western populations, the diets of most American executives vary because our salt needs vary.  Impacting factors include everything from genetics, physical condition, and diet, to stature, environment and stress.  Although each person’s sodium intake varies, there is a recognized “correct” amount known as the “hygienic safety range” – equivalent to 2,300 – 4,600 or 5,750 milligrams of sodium daily- identified by renowned Swedish medical researcher Björn Folkow of the University of Göteborg. Americans fall within the range – averaging 3,500mg of sodium daily.

Third, remember that for most healthy people, the kidney will excrete excess salt.  For others with unique health needs, a properly monitored low-salt diet may be beneficial.   Increased dietary salt can aggravate asthma symptoms, especially in men. Other conditions such as kidney stones, gastritis and ulcers caused by H. pylori infection are helped with a lower salt intake.  But the most controversial discussion is the link between salt consumption and increased cardiovascular disease. Those who claim salt is unhealthy generally focus on the blood pressure variable, assuming it’s the only relevant risk factor. However, a randomized controlled trial of health outcomes of a low-salt diet actually found worse results.

There is also the reality of the long-loved and exceedingly successful Mediterranean diet.  In this diet salt is the star. Olives, feta cheese, capers, anchovies, codfish and roe are all packed or brined in salt. Salt improves the flavor of Virgin olive oil, and recipes like Greek taramosalata with salted codfish roe, and tzatziki made with salted fresh cucumbers in yogurt are delicious and healthy dishes.  In fact, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) used it as a model in its famous DASH Study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Their findings confirmed that the Mediterranean/DASH diet was healthier than the average American diet and even had the effect of reducing systolic blood pressure.

Ensuring our population is well educated in proper food choices for better health is a noble cause. However, before you reduce your salt intake, or start any diet, talk to your doctor at EHS Corporate Care for healthy guidelines uniquely designed for your needs.

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