Limiting Salt Consumption

December 23, 2011 in Health, Nutrition by Mary Ireland

I was visiting my mother when she served steamed broccoli that was so salty, I could not eat it. I think this was a bad combination of my mother's decreasing sensitivity to saltiness as she got older, causing her to use more, and my increasing salt sensitivity from being on a low-sodium diet. Or maybe it is only decreased sensitivity: I've (incredulously) watched my sister salt the basket of tortilla chips at a Mexican food restaurant.

According to the American Heart Association, a high-sodium diet may be to blame for the development of high blood pressure. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor. Sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, creating an added burden on the heart. Too much sodium in the diet may also have other harmful health effects, including increased risk for stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.

A study published in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition reports that infants exposed to salty foods, such as crackers and other starchy table foods, between two months and six months are more likely to lick salt from the surface of foods at preschool age and tended to be more likely to eat plain salt. The infants who were exposed to the most salt at home preferred a salt solution over plain water, and consumed about 55 percent more salt during the taste test. Meanwhile, the infants who had not been introduced to many salty foods by their parents either were indifferent to water with salt in it or the infants rejected it.

The results of this study has major implications. Early habituation to salt is a healthcare problem: the American Heart Association estimates that 97 percent of children and adolescents eat too much salt, putting them at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases as they get older. Early habituation means more sales and more profits for food processors. In her blog, Mmm Mmm Good - the Salt of the Earth, Dr. Grandma discusses the habituation of taste buds to salt and the complex economic systems are at play with reducing salt in processed products.

As I was preparing my Gingered Pumpkin-Carrot Soup, I thought about healthy qualities of the spices I was using. For example, cinnamon is among top 5 extracts that exhibited the greatest relaxing ability of vascular smooth muscle - so it actually helps to reduce blood pressure. A study reported in USAToday suggests turmeric, one component of curry spice, almost completely prevented joint swelling in rats with arthritis. Other studies have suggested that the spice could protect against diseases such as heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's, a degenerative brain disease that afflicts nearly 5 million people in the USA. The University of Maryland Medical Center site reports that medicinal properties of ginger include:

  • Reduction of inflammation due to arthritis
  • Reduction of Nausea related to:
    • Motion Sickness
    • Pregnancy/morning sickness
    • Chemotherapy nausea

Food processors are substituting cheap salt that is detrimental to our health for traditional spices that can contribute to our health. There has been a lot of press about requirements for food processors to reduce sodium. Given the amount of money that food processors have to spend on advertising and tests that dispute the negative health effects of salt, I don't have a lot of confidence that the food industry will change. My advice is to avoid processed foods and make your own healthy food. Your pocketbook is the best way to get the attention of the food processors. When enough people stop buying these unhealthy products, food processors will start making healthier foods. If you do buy processed food, read the labels fastidiously and avoid the worst of the worst.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Healthy, Happy New Year.