Reducing the amount of salt Americans consume by one-half teaspoon (1200 milligrams) per day could reduce the annual number of deaths in the U.S. by 44,000 to 92,000. That is according to a new study published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine. (The report is behind a paid firewall, but an editorial in the same issue, which is available online, contains much of the data.)
A national campaign to cut salt intake, something on the order of the anti-smoking campaign, could
“...reduce the annual number of new cases of coronary heart disease (CHD) by 60,000 to 120,000, stroke by 32,000 to 66,000, and myocardial infarction by 54,000 to 99,000...This intervention could also save 194,000 to 392,000 quality-adjusted life-years and $10 billion to $24 billion in health care costs annually. Even if the intervention reduced salt intake by just 1 g (1,000 milligrams) per day, the benefits would still be substantial and would warrant implementation.”
Average salt intake in the U.S. is well above the upper recommended limit of 2300 milligrams of sodium per day. For adults older than 40, the upper recommended sodium limit is 1500 milligrams per day.
I hardly ever add salt to food on my plate and I have always used combinations of various herbs and spices, rather than salt, in cooking. The kinds of snacks I crave tend toward sweet rather than salt. You won't find potato chips or salted nuts in my cupboard, but I get a little nervous if there isn't something available for an unanticipated sugar attack.
Nevertheless, there is an astonishing amount of sodium even in what are considered healthy prepared foods. Campbell's soups commonly contain 800-900 grams of sodium per one-cup serving. I like having soups around for a quick-and-easy lunch or dinner, but store brands almost all contain high amounts of sodium.
A one-cup serving of Progresso lentil soup contains a whopping 980 milligrams of sodium. I tried an “organic” brand of vegetable soup that blared “no salt added” in red lettering on the can that has only 70 grams of sodium per serving. It was awful. It tasted like lumpy hot water. So, it's back to home-made soup which can be full-bodied and delicious without a single grain of added salt, but it is not a definition of quick-and-easy.
I've recently rediscovered the pleasures red beans and rice so I keep canned beans on hand for when I'm too lazy or don't remember to soak dried beans. But you must read labels. Here's an astonishing bit of information:
- Goya Red Kidney Beans: 110 milligrams of sodium per half cup
- Goya Dominican Red Beans: 350 milligrams of sodium per half cup
What's in the cans is similar enough and they taste the same as far as I can tell, so I choose the kidney beans.
According to the The New York Times, which reported on this new study, the Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies of Science will soon release recommendations on reducing salt intake, including actions the government and food manufacturers can take. One of the NEJM study's researchers,
”Dr. Bibbins-Domingo also said the Food and Drug Administration was considering whether to change the designation of salt from a food additive that is generally considered safe to a category that would require companies to give consumers more information alerting them to high levels of salt in food.”
I've known many people who crave salty food, so much so that I usually warn dinner guests that they may want to salt the food - and they usually do. Some people I've worked with never considered lunch to be a complete meal without potato chips on the side. My personal food bete noire is sugar, which has its own health implications. But controlling salt intake has always been easy for me:
• Don't eat packaged or processed foods
• Don't add salt to food
• Use lots of herbs and spices to flavor dishes
• Small amounts of such flavorings as mustards, horseradish, ginger, citrus, etc. can make a dull dish tasty without salt
No one is saying cutting out salt or cutting down alone will prevent stroke or heart disease, but it is well known that large amounts of salt can be damaging to health, especially in old age. What about you? Do you work at controlling salt intake?
[ADDENDUM: There is a marvelous book by Mark Kurlinsky titled (don't laugh) Salt: A World History that is definitely worth its salt, a substance that in various eras and places, has been used as currency. Kurlinsky has written equally fascinating histories of cod and of the oyster.]
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Colleen Redman: After the Golden Globes and in Honor of Valentine's Day