How to Shake the Salt Habit
This article originally appeared in Be Well, a health
information newsletter published for members of the Greater Marlborough
Imagine a jumbo jet filled with 400 passengers crashing. Now imagine one such
packed jet crashing every day for a whole year. The death toll would reach
almost 150,000, the number of lives that could be saved every year if Americans
cut their salt use in half, according to the American Medical Association.
A salt shaker can be found on just about every kitchen table. Salt as a
flavor enhancer is a staple in the American diet. Most people need less than a ½
teaspoon of salt every day for good health, yet the Institute of Medicine claims
that the average American consumes as much as two-teaspoons of salt a day.
The problem with salt is not that it causes a barely quenchable thirst, but
that it is a major contributor to high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke,
heart attack and kidney disease.
"I tell my patients that since blood pressure tends to naturally rise as one
gets older, they should be aware of the harmful effects of too much salt, which
can make the problem much worse," said Sangeetha Punjabi, MD, a board-certified
internist and endocrinologist, or diabetes specialist, on staff at Marlborough
Hospital. "I particularly caution my patients with diabetes. High blood pressure
and diabetes in combination can make a person more prone to kidney or heart
disease. It's very important for diabetics to control their blood pressure."
How can one cut down salt intake and help protect their health? The answer is
not as easy as hiding the family's salt shaker. According to experts, salt at
the dining table or added to cooking only accounts for about one-quarter of the
average person's intake. The true villains are processed and "fast foods." For
example, a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese contains nearly half a
teaspoon of salt, and two slices of Pizza Hut's Meat Lovers Stuffed Crust Pizza
has more than a teaspoon. Even a "low sodium" canned soup can contain nearly a
There are, however, some simple and easy steps one can take to lower salt
According to registered dietitian Lisa Goldsmith, RD, a can of
low-sodium broth with fresh chicken or beef and cut vegetables added to it can
make for a healthful and low salt meal.
When dining out, Ms. Goldsmith advises choosing foods that are grilled,
broiled, steamed, roasted or baked and to request that no salt be added. Soy and
teriyaki sauces along with gravies tend to contain a lot of salt, so they should
Although fresh salads can be a healthful alternative to soups for an
appetizer, many salad dressings are high in salt. Use oil and vinegar for a
dressing instead, suggests Ms. Goldsmith.
"I urge my patients, particularly those with diabetes, to be aware of the
dangers salt can pose," concluded Dr. Punjabi. "Marlborough Hospital has an
excellent outpatient diabetes program. In it, patients are taught how good
nutrition is an essential part of an overall plan of health."
It may take a bit of knowledge and planning, but it is possible to shake the
salt habit and protect one's health.