- - Tuesday, February 9, 2016

It has been postulated that diets high in sodium contribute to an annual 2.3 million cardiovascular deaths worldwide and is responsible for 1-in-10 U.S. deaths. And researchers also found that 40 percent of these deaths affect adults 69 years of age or younger.

Additionally, excess salt consumption contributes to a number of chronic and debilitating illnesses. They include high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke, as well as diabetes, osteoporosis, dementia, sleep apnea, cancer, kidney disease, and even obesity.

The good news is that because salty foods are mostly an acquired taste, it can likely be changed! The average adult has approximately 10,000 taste buds with a lifespan of one to two weeks. They are then replaced with new receptors that have not become accustomed to high salt foods.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know About Salt

What is salt?
A mineral compound composed of sodium and chloride. Sodium is essential for balancing fluids and proper nerve conduction and muscle function.

What is the recommended amount of salt we can consume?
In order for the adult human body to perform its essential functions, we require an intake of 500 mg of sodium per day. And current recommendations state that no more than 2,400 mg of sodium daily—and 1,500 mg in certain groups— should be consumed. However, on average, Americans consume 3,436 mg everyday! That is more than double.

Where is this excess salt coming from?
Surprisingly, only about 6 percent of our sodium intake comes from saltshakers on our dinner tables. The majority—more than three-quarters—comes from processed, frozen, packaged foods as well as foods consumed in restaurants, fast-food and purchased in grocery stores (even soft drinks have sodium). Salt not only puts a burst of flavor into these products, but also helps preserve them in order to provide a longer shelf life. Some experts have called our added saltiness a “cultural addiction” because this is what we have become accustomed to.

Why is salt addictive?
When we consume salt, it triggers the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine—a ‘happy’ chemical that is released when you are exposed to something positive. As a result, it reinforces behaviors and encourages you to seek out more of whatever caused the dopamine release. This is similar to when you see someone you love or use an addictive drug such as alcohol, nicotine, or illegal drugs…you crave more.

Does salt make you gain weight?
Although salt does not contain any calories, because it causes a release of dopamine when consumed, it can intensively increase hunger cravings for salty foods like potato chips or French fries—which are notoriously high in calories and fat. Additionally, research has shown that consuming high amounts of salt stimulates insulin production. Insulin is a hormone that allows us to get energy (sugar or glucose) into our cells. In the process, it communicates with our body that we do not need to use any stored energy (fat) and promotes conversion and storage of excess sugar as fat!

What steps can I take to reduce my salt intake?
There are many who are committed to our nation’s health and are working with food manufacturers to make logical reductions in the salt content of their products. In the meantime, however, there are a number of things we can do to decrease our personal intake:
• Choose fresh fruit and veggies whenever possible. They are naturally low in sodium, and, too, contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
• Always read nutrition labels to determine the sodium content per serving. You may be surprised that sugary foods like cookies or other baked items have a high salt content.
• When selecting canned or processed foods, pick a “low sodium,” “reduced sodium,” or “no salt added” option. And note that “reduced sodium” by definition means a decrease by 25 percent from normal. The item may still have a large salt content!
• Be aware that sea salt and kosher salt contain the same amount of sodium as table salt
• Opt for water instead of diet sodas or sodas. Although having a can or two from time to time is not likely to impact our health, it can really add up for those who consume several cans of soda daily.
• Avoid adding salt when cooking a meal. By adding it at the end of cooking or when it is on the table the salt doesn’t get “drowned out.” As a result, you are more likely to maximize flavor with the least amount of salt.
• Substitute with herbs, spices, and other flavor-filled items such as vinegar, lemon juice, basil, oregano, rosemary, ginger, and garlic

While a little salt is essential to good health it is important to understand that excessive salt intake has proven to be a major contributor to heart attack and stroke — the first and third leading causes of death in the United States. While it is believed that genetic factors affect our salt intake, studies show that people who switch to reduced-sodium diets develop a heightened sensitivity to saltiness within about two to three months. As a result, they need less salt to get the same pleasure from their food. Your daily salt intake matters and impacts your health.

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