290720 Salt shaken by Glenn Cardwell 1/2

290720 Salt shaken 1/2 by Glenn Cardwell

Think of salt and health and the first, and possibly only, association you can make is to link salt and high blood pressure. That’s understandable as anyone with hypertension is told cut out salt and choose salt-reduced foods. Having high blood pressure also increases the chance of having a stroke.

Salt, sodium?

It can get confusing when the words salt and sodium get interchanged. The easy thing to remember is that salt is sodium chloride, and it is the sodium part that seems to be the problem. About 10% of the sodium in our diet is found naturally in food; another 10% or so is added at the table or in the kitchen. Guess where the other 80% comes from? More on that later.

Salt effects more than blood pressure

Salt may be causing more problems than high blood pressure. A high salt diet is also known to be associated with osteoporosis because the extra sodium causes calcium to leach from the bones.

Collaborative work between researchers from Australia, New Zealand and the US found that high salt could be having an effect at the level of the artery wall too. Previous research on salt reduction in high salt consumers had shown an improvement in artery function. This was a small study of 34 adults designed to see if the opposite could happen, that is, did adding extra salt to the diet for four weeks cause artery damage?

The answer was “Yes”. The extra sodium in the diet caused artery walls to stiffen as well as causing an increase in blood pressure. What was interesting about this study was that the effect of the extra salt was independent of blood pressure. So, if you eat plenty of salt-laden foods, but your blood pressure is fine, you are likely to still be causing artery damage. Put another way, don’t wait for the doc to tell you that your blood pressure is high before you eat healthy and cut the salt.

What does it all mean?

We fret so much about fat, saturated fat, trans fatty acids and anything that hints of grease, yet not give even a sideways glance at the salt content of foods. I have met only two people who know the definition of a low salt food (one that has less than 120 mg sodium per 100g) and very few people know that “non-salty tasting” foods like bread, cheese and breakfast cereal can pack a fair sodium punch. I don’t want to unduly worry you, but I do think it is time to take note of the one food additive that can definitely affect your health.

Just don’t expect me to be perfect. I love olives and cheese.

Reference: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010; 91: 557- 564

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