Sodium and Death Risk

October 25, 2016 in Health, Health Claims, Nutrition, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

I’m well aware that many self-proclaimed experts say that salt/sodium is not a problem in health. But my advice is to stick with the Surgeon General, the American Heart Association, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; which all advise us to cut back on salt intake. In addition, I like the results of large studies that give a broad view. Just within the past couple of weeks a new study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Among facts that I like about this study is that it is based upon research of 3,126 people for over 24 years (enough people and nice and long). They found that the risk of death from any cause, rose in a straight line – right along with sodium intake. That is, as sodium went up – death went up.

Now my message is about the risks of sodium to heart and cardiovascular health. The research is overwhelming on these effects of sodium. This study also finds a relationship of amount of sodium to all kinds of causes of death. That suggests some undiscovered connections of excess sodium to other kinds of causes. It suggests more research needs to be done on this wonderful mineral, salt, so valuable in the history of mankind, that has turned killer when we long ago passed up moderate or low levels of it and started eating it in great excess of what our ancestors were able to do. All the more reason to heed warnings and try to reduce sodium consumption.

The group that did this research was at Harvard Medical School in Boston; I admit that I like the work of both the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health – consistently great work. Nancy R. Cook, who led the study, said; “Everyone needs some salt; it is an essential nutrient, but we need far less than we consume.” She suggests that we read food labels of packaged foods and have a healthy diet, filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, which would lower sodium as a side-benefit to good nutrition.

Cook’s publication included a note from the editors, called “translational outlook.” This is what it said: “New strategies are needed to reduce the amount of sodium in the food supply and to educate people about the importance of dietary sodium restriction.” So being a public health educator, I thought that we’ve certainly not been able to sufficiently influence the public over the last decades of work. So let me be tenacious; let me continue in the goal of keeping the public informed on this issue.

Some of the articles that I have posted are: Mmm Mmm Good – the Salt of the Earth, A Pinch of Salt Can Do the Job, and Budget Friendly Homemade Soup; to name a few.

Why are the food processors continuing to add so much salt to canned vegetables and soups? The simple bottom line reason is that it is so much cheaper than the herbs, spices and flavorful vegetables that you would use at home. A compounding reason is that people get accustomed to an overly salty taste – to our detriment. But changing our taste habits toward more saltiness plays into the food processors game-plan – cheaper manufacturing, higher profit margins. When vegetables and soups are canned they must be cooked at a very high temperature for a long period of time to kill potentially harmful bacteria. Many of the natural flavors are destroyed in this process. Unfortunately, the salt that is added to make up for the loss of flavor, contributes to high blood pressure, and that increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, not to mention Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis and other problems.

It’s worth looking at the labels. Some soups provide about 1,000 milligrams sodium per serving for 100 calories of food. Yikes! It’s not just canned vegetables and soup that are high in sodium; breads, cereals, and all kinds of processed foods, all can be sources of high sodium. If we’re striving to cut the sodium, we generally discover that making our own food cuts it in a significant way. Also, becoming a label detective has great potential to help us.

If you’ve ever experimented with flavorful herbs (tarragon, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme and even peppers) in addition, to vegetables, you’ve probably made an amazing discovery; soup does not need to be loaded with salt (sodium chloride) to be flavorful. Homemade, low sodium soup is a boon to getting full for fewer calories. Many other processed foods can also be made without the huge load of sodium.

It’s all about spending the effort to discover where the sodium lurks and finding creative ways around taking in too much. It’s an important endeavor because as Cook’s study showed, sodium and risk of death travel together.