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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Are You Salt Sensitive?

The human body needs salt in order to function. How much salt is enough? The American Heart Association recommends 2,3000 milligrams of salt a day for healthy adults. That's ONE TEASPOON of salt. People who are extremely salt sensitive should eat less.

Many Americans are eating way too much salt and putting their health at risk. If you're overweight, have cardiovascular disease, or high blood pressure you should cut back on salt. A 2001 Indiana University School of Medicine study, "Salt Sensitivity, Pulse Pressure, and Death in Normal and Hypertensive Humans," details the health risks associated with salt sensitivity.

The results of the 25-year study were announced in a February 2001 NIH News Release. In the release Dr. Myron Weinberger, Director of Indiana University's Hypertension Research Center, is quoted as saying, "Salt sensitivity increases the risk of death, whether or not a person has high blood pressure."

Weinberger thinks this finding has implication for all Americans. Older Americans, African Americans, and those who come from salt sensitive families are more apt to become salt sensitive. Salt sensitive people are more apt to develop high blood pressure as they age, according to Weinberger, and he describes America as a "salt abundant" environment.

How do you live in this environment?

The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services says you check every food label for sodium. Remember, this number is for one serving. Make sure you check the serving size because this is where food processors may cheat. Let's use canned sauerkraut as an example.

The sauerkraut contains 175 milligrams of salt per serving. When you look at the serving size, however, it's a mere two tablespoons. If you eat two servings of saurkraut (about half a cup) you're eating 700 milligrams of salt. Add a salty hot dog, a salty bun, and salty condiments and you've probably eaten a teaspoon of salt.

The NIH also wants you to look at the Percent Daily Value number. This number tells you if the product is high or low in salt. You should choose food products with the lowest percentage and salt free products. Be on the lookout for foods that contain surprise salt - soda pop, seasoned pepper, lemon pepper, and others.

Since there's no test for salt sensitivity you'll have to devise your own. Start by watching for symptoms: swollen hands, knees, and feet, bulging leg and ankle veins, droopy eyelids, "chipmunk cheeks" (puffy, swollen cheeks), shortness of breath, and weight gain. Some salt sensitive people also get headaches.

Keep a salt diary for two weeks. Record every meal and snack in your diary and their salt contents. Compare your salt intake with medical symptoms. Report any symptoms of salt sensitivity to your physician. Your physician will be able to determine if you have high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is going up or you have high blood pressure your physician may prescribe a diuretic.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to take the salt shaker off the table and eat a low salt diet. The American Heart Association has posted tips for reducing sodium on its Website. Here are the tips and comments about them.
  • Cook without salt. This is really hard if you're making soup, but you may balance the lack of salt with flavorful ingredients, such as mushrooms.
  • Substitute spices and herbs for salt. Fresh herbs are best, though dry herbs will work. Citrus juice and zest also add flavor to foods.
  • Buy low fat milk, cheese and yogurt. Cheese contains lots of salt, so use small amounts in your recipes. You want just enough to taste the cheese, not be overpowered by it.
  • Choose unsalted nuts and seeds for snacks. Better yet, keep carrot sticks, celery sticks, jicima sticks, and cut up fruit on hand for snacking.
  • Avoid salty seasonings: bullion, soy sauce, steak sauce, Worstershire sauce, meat tenderizers, and MSG. You'll find salt free soup stock on store shelves, but check the fat content before you buy these products.
You may also limit restaurant meals, which are usually high in salt. Many of these meals are made with processed foods. An article on Mayo Clinic's Website, "Processed Foods: Why So Salty?" tells why these foods are salty. Food processors use salt to enhance flavor, increase sweetness (like sprinkling salt on melon), decrease the dryness in foods, and mask metallic and chemical aftertastes.

It's okay to eat out occasionally, but don't make it a habit. Being salt sensitive doesn't mean you eat alfalfa the rest of your life. On the contrary, you may eat delicious meals. All it takes is careful planning and shopping. You may want to subscribe to "Salt Free Life" magazine. To learn more about the magazine call 1-877-2588 or go to

Salt sensitivity is serious business, so make it your business to eat less salt and get regular checkups. After a while you won't miss the salt and you'll taste the true flavors of food. Bon appetit!

Copyright 2006 by Harriet Hodgson


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