The Grainy Truth about Salt
Thanh Nguyen, M.D.
Is Salt Really Bad For You? Chances are you have heard that salt can lead to a host of cardiovascular problems from heart attacks to strokes. However, salt is actually an essential component to your healthy body. There are plenty of benefits to reap from salt, such as balancing your fluids and electrolytes. The real problem is consuming too much salt.
Excess salt can cause your body to retain fluids and create hormonal changes within your kidneys. Moreover, excess salt can cause blockages in your arteries that can lead to heart attacks, strokes or amputations. But monitoring your salt does not have to be stressful. It’s very important to find a happy medium in your salt consumption.
How much salt is recommended?
For healthy individuals, it is recommended to limit your salt intake to 2.3 grams (2,300 milligrams) per day, and less than 2 grams (2,000 milligrams) per day for those with cardiovascular or kidney problems. Most of our salt intake is not from salt itself but processed foods and restaurant meals. Understanding how much salt is in your food can help you control your risks of developing cardiovascular problems.
Tips to help you monitor your sodium intake:
- Check the nutrition facts. The nutrition facts label on your food includes the number of milligrams of sodium (salt) in the product. Keep track of the number of milligrams you consume per day from labeled foods, and look up the average sodium content for non-labeled foods. Get an idea of how much salt you’re ingesting and where you can cut back.
- Watch Portion Control. Always check your meals’ serving size. If you eat multiple servings’ worth of food, then you may be consuming excess sodium.
- Don’t be fooled by marketing gimmicks. You can find “Low Sodium,” “Light Sodium,” “Very Low Sodium” labels on a bunch of food items in the supermarket. However, the government doesn’t regulate these labels, so the words “low” or “light” could mean completely different things from one company to another. Check the milligrams instead on these items’ nutrition facts.
- Look for lower sodium items. Packaged, processed, canned and frozen foods are often high in sodium, because many companies use salt as a preservative. For example, if you eat a pizza, make it with less cheese and meats and more vegetables. Also, soda is high in sodium, and water is your best choice.
- Spice it up! Instead of using salt to add flavor, experiment with different spices, herbs or citrus. There is a vast array of spices that can add a different flavor to your meal. Also, these spices often come with unique health benefits, such as cinnamon and turmeric. However, do avoid spice mixes, such as Tony’s. These spice blends are loaded with salt.
- If indulging, be smart. Limiting your salt intake doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy a salty snack or meal at a restaurant. Stay within your daily salt limit and enjoy that salty meal.
Remember salt is not the enemy and should not be cut out completely. With these few changes, you can control your salt intake and reduce your risk of developing problems.
For low sodium recipe ideas, click here to access our online health library.
For a referral to a Touro physician or cardiologist, call (504) 897-7777 or search our online FindADoctor directory at www.touro.com/findadoc.
Dr. Nguyen grew up in Baton Rouge and is Vietnam-born. He chose to specialize in cardiology for its emphasis on physiology and the instant impact that cardiovascular procedures can have. As an interventional cardiologist, he performs both minor surgical procedures, such as pacemaker insertion to regulate irregular heart rhythms, and nonsurgical procedures, including balloon angioplasties and stent placement to improve blood flow to and from the heart.
He supervises cardiology fellows at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. To become interventional cardiologists, fellows must complete one to two years of training in addition to their three-year general cardiology fellowships.