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  • Matthew Minson, M.D.

Too much salt or… Overcompensation


If you take anything away from what I am about to write, it is this, you probably need to cut down on how much sodium (salt) you are consuming.

The irony is that the story of humanity is actually very closely tied to the story of salt. Early on people realized that salt not only improved the taste of food, but also preserved it and reduced the incidence of food borne illness. It is also an important mineral that is necessary for our bodies to work correctly.

In those days, salt was not easy to come by.

Fast forward to the Roman Empire. Because of its value, salt was actually used as payment for soldiers in the Legion. In fact the modern word “salary” comes from the Latin word salarium, and its root sal, which means “salt”.

If you’ve ever heard the expression that someone is worth their salt, well now you know where it comes from.

So in a way we are actually all being overcompensated in this country. It has been suggested that we may actually consume 50 % more sodium per day than we should. This is a huge problem, because it has been proven that this is an important aggravation of hypertension (1/3 of the population) heart attacks and strokes. Recently the Food and Drug Administration released new guidelines on sodium (salt) consumption.

Here is an excerpt: “…Average sodium intake in the U.S.is about 3,400 mg per day, but the FDA recommends cutting that level to about 3,000 mg per day within two years, and to reduce it within 10 years to 2,300 mg per day… as recommended by leading experts and the overwhelming body of scientific evidence.”

As you see, it sets a goal of 2300 milligrams of sodium per day to be achieved within ten years. Frankly folks, I am not waiting that long.

But you may be saying, “Hey, I already reduce how much I salt my food .”

Well good for you, but that really is not the issue. Most of the sodium in our food is put there by processing, and unless you are a food manufacturing titan, you are as my grandmother used to say, “S.O.L.” I assume she meant “salt outa luck.” At least I hope so.

So what can you do? Well you can change the types of food you eat by starting your dishes, and meals with, and consumption of – raw fruits, vegetables and unprocessed nuts.

At my house fruits, nuts and vegetables may actually constitute a pretty good description of a family reunion, but I digress.

Otherwise you can also - and frankly you really should - read the ingredients label that is on all processed products. This is super important. It describes how much of any ingredient or category of ingredients you are consuming based of the daily requirements. Be sure to also look at how many servings there are in the package and calculate that against how many you are consuming. If a whole can of something is what you eat, but the label describes that as two servings well, you can do the math… and you should.

Similarly when you go out to a restaurant, don’t just assume that they are limiting the salt in your food. Probably the situation is just the opposite. Part of the FDA’s new guidelines include restaurant information, but I would sadly point out that these are guidelines, not mandates, not regulation, and not laws, so you are going to need to take more personal responsibility and control to make sure that you are not being overdosed with sodium or salt.

If ever there was a perfect example of “ too much of a good thing” it probably is our dietary relationship with salt. On that note, I am suddenly reminded of another adage and one that really applies here, “moderation in all things.”

It is tough to reduce your consumption, but one place you can find some additional information and support is online at www.fda.gov

You can also consult: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/

Be Well

Matthew Minson, M.D.


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