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Sprinkling on a little less sodium goes a long way for health

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Zepeda, April
Friday, May 18, 2012
Sprinkling on a little less sodium goes a long way for health
YOUR HEALTH | By Katie Murdoch, Herald writer

Cutting back on sodium can help control weight and lower the risk of high cholesterol and heart problems.

One of the challenges lies in spotting foods with surprisingly high levels of sodium, along with limiting familiar salty treats like french fries and potato chips.

People crave salt, said Dr. Neil Siecke, a cardiologist at Swedish Heart and Vascular in Edmonds.

Salt is one of the primary flavors in people’s diets and for those in hot, dry climates, salty snacks replace the sodium lost through sweat and prevent dehydration, Siecke said.

“However, like fat, a little bit is a good thing, but too much has negative health consequences,” he wrote in an email.

Frozen food manufacturers and restaurant chains have taken advantage of how easy it is to add sodium to punch up the flavor of foods, as they can’t use fresh herbs for flavor, he said.

The typical American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, said Dr. Kevin Clay with The Everett Clinic. About 80 percent of salt consumed comes from processed foods, he added.

Studies have shown folks who consume 1,200 milligrams per day don’t have hypertension, stroke or heart disease, Clay said.

“There’s a correlation,” he said.

Salt is the primary cause of high blood pressure. Adult and children alike should aim to limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day, or one teaspoon, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov. Adults 51 and older, African Americans and those with high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic kidney diseases, should limit salt intake further to 1,500 milligrams per day.

The USDA offers 10 tips to help people cut back on salt in their diet. These tips include opting for fresh food and skipping over or at least eating smaller portions of processed foods, like bacon and lunch meat.

Pay attention to foods that are surprisingly high in sodium, such as ketchup and salad dressing.

And counteract the effects of sodium with potassium-rich foods like bananas and yogurt, which can help lower blood pressure levels.

Also, do not rely on taste to determine if a food is high in sodium, advises the Mayo Clinic. A bagel, for example, may not taste salty. But a 4-inch oat bran bagel is packed with 532 milligrams of sodium.

To take control, the Mayo Clinic recommends reading food nutrition labels -- including those billed as “unsalted” or “very low sodium,” such as canned soup, which can still pack as much as 820 milligrams of sodium per cup. The Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding foods with 200 milligrams of sodium or more.

Siecke reminds patients that a diet high in sodium leads to fluid retention and edema. Cutting back on salty foods can mean treating edema without a diuretic, and side-stepping its unpleasant side effects of frequent urination and urgency.

Many people worry cutting back on salt will come at the expense of taste. Siecke recommends gradually cutting back on salt.

“Gradually the taste receptors will reset, and then food with added sodium will taste salty,” he said.

Consider replacing salt with Mrs. Dash-style blends or sea salts, and avoid processed foods as much as possible, Clay said.