Are salty foods our enemy? Not necessarily. But for some people, too much salt can be hazardous to their health.
The chemical composition of salt is sodium plus chloride (NaCl). As most doctors will tell you, salt is tied up with the body’s fluid status. If the body has too much salt, then the body will retain more water.
Some medical conditions are aggravated by too much salt. These conditions include high blood pressure, heart failure, liver disease, kidney disease, and various causes of leg swelling. Hence, a low-salt (or low-sodium) diet is beneficial and may even be lifesaving for certain individuals.
Here are some health benefits of a low-salt diet:
• Lowers blood pressure. Reducing your salt intake can be an effective way to reduce high blood pressure (hypertension). The less salt you take in, the less water you will retain. This will reduce the volume load or strain on your heart, and will lower blood pressure. If you are taking several medicines for your high blood pressure, adopting a low-salt diet may help reduce the number and dosage of your maintenance medicines. You save on money and become healthier, too.
• May treat resistant high blood pressure. Some patients have what is called “resistant hypertension,” which means that their blood pressures are very difficult to control even with three or more medicines. Dr. Eduardo Pimenta, clinical research fellow at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, says that “doctors tend to add more and more antihypertensive medications, but these patients could have their blood pressure controlled with a low-salt diet and fewer medications.” According to Dr. Pimenta’s study published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, participants who followed a low-salt diet had an average reduction of 22.7 points in their systolic blood pressure (the top number) and 9.1 points for the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). Dr. Pimenta believes that those with very high blood pressures may be more responsive to a low-salt diet.
• May possibly reduce heart attacks and strokes. If you reduce the blood pressure, then the risk for heart attacks and strokes will also decrease. Dr. Nancy R. Cook, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, investigated the long-term effects of a low-salt diet in participants who previously enrolled in low-salt clinical trials. After 10 to 15 years from the original trials, Dr. Cook found out that those in the low-salt group had 25-30% lower incidence of heart attacks compared to those on a regular diet. Dr. Cook’s study published in the British Medical Journal, concludes that “the observed reduction in cardiovascular risk associated with this sodium decrease was substantial and provides strong support for reducing dietary sodium intake across the population to prevent cardiovascular disease.”
• May reduce symptoms of heart failure, kidney failure or liver failure. Patients with a weak heart, kidney or liver may have signs of fluid overload, such as leg swelling, face swelling, water in the abdomen or lungs. Hence, going on a low-salt diet may help these patients’ symptoms by reducing the fluid in their bodies. Consult your doctor about this.
There are some preliminary evidence to suggest that a low-salt diet may also be beneficial in preventing diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, bloating, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and asthma.
Reducing sodium in your diet
A regular diet consists of 2,800 to 6,000 mg. of sodium or 15 grams of table salt per day. To adopt a low-salt diet, aim for an intake of around 2,000 mg. of sodium per day.
1. Don’t use the salt shaker. Avoid using added salt to your food.
2. Cook food with only little amounts of salt.
3. Get used to the taste of low-salt foods. After a few weeks, your taste buds will become more sensitive and you’ll experience more flavors with unsalted foods.
4. When eating instant noodles, use only half of the packed seasoning. For example, if the instruction says to add three cups of boiling water to the noodles, then just add one-and-a-half cup of water and use only half of the seasoning. This will immediately cut your salt intake by half.
If you like Filipino fare like adobo or pinakbet, don’t take in too much of the sauces.
5. Snack chips, potato chips, cheese, and salted nuts are high in salt. Choose the low-salt varieties or eat healthier snacks. Avoid adding extra cheese to your pizza.
6. Try seasoning meat items with onion, garlic, lemon, spices, and herbs to bring out the flavor. You don’t need to add too much salt anymore.
7. Use fresh garlic or fresh ground black pepper as a salt alternative. Don’t use garlic salt.
8. Try cooking chicken in sweet and sour sauce. It can satisfy your taste better than salty foods.
9. Check food labels for the amounts of sodium. Look for words that are considered salt or sodium replacements such as soy sauce, salt brine, monosodium glutamate, and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).
10. Choose low- and reduced-salt products, if available.
11. Rinse canned food items with water to remove some of the salt. Finally, check the accompanying table for a list of low-salt and high- salt food items.
- Written by Willie T. Ong, MD
- Created: 10 April 2014