Yehuda was a middle aged man who never had a problem with high blood pressure. He went for a routine visit to his doctor and his blood pressure was found to be high. The doctor ran many tests and nothing showed any particular abnormality causing his hypertension. He even tried home monitoring to make sure it wasn’t nervousness caused by the doctor taking his BP. It was still high—too high.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine predicted that reducing daily salt intake by 3 grams per day would reduce the annual number of new cases of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke by about a third. Yet, a Harvard study done in 2010 concluded that salt consumption is nearly the same as it was 50 years ago. Despite warning from the medical community for the last 50 years, we don’t seem to want to change our habits.
As long as we’ve been around, salt has been around. Salt was used for Karbonos on the Mizbeiach. Composed primarily of sodium chloride, this most popular seasoning is actually a mineral which is essential for animal life. Salt for human consumption is produced in different forms: unrefined salt (such as sea salt), refined salt (table salt), and iodized salt. It is a crystalline solid, white, pale pink or light grey in color, normally obtained from sea water or rock deposits. Edible rock salts may be slightly greyish in color due to mineral content. Sodium ions are necessary for regulation of blood and body fluids, transmission of nerve impulses, heart activity and certain metabolic functions. But how much salt do we need, and what are the adverse effects of consuming too much of these small, powdery white crystals?
Salt has become the new villain in the western diet. In November of 2007, the American Medical Association urged immediate action to reduce the excess salt in food. The AMA contained overwhelming evidence that eating an excessive amount of salt is a risk factor for high blood pressure as well as other cardiovascular and kidney problems. Dr. Stephen Havas of the AMA says that the death toll attributable to salt is like a “jumbo jet with more than 400 passengers crashing every day of the year, year after year.”
In addition, the most recent 5-year report on cancer prevention from the World Cancer Research Fund named excessive salt intake as one of the causes of cancer. The following is a quote from the summary of the report: “The strongest evidence on methods of food preservation, processing and preparation shows that salt and salt-preserved foods are probable causes of stomach cancer, and that foods contaminated with aflatoxins are a cause of liver cancer. Salt is necessary for human health and life itself, but at levels very much lower than those typically consumed in most parts of the world. At the levels found not only in high-income countries but also in those where traditional diets are high in salt, consumption of salty foods, salted foods and salt itself is too high. The critical factor is the overall amount of salt. Salt and salt-preserved foods are a probable cause of some cancers.”
Salt is found in almost everything we eat. 75% of the salt we eat does not come from the salt shaker. It is most prominent in pickled and smoked items such as pickles, herring and delicatessen. Most canned items, particularly vegetables, are packed with massive amount of sodium, as are most processed and frozen foods of all kinds. The salt you add at your table is
on top of the salt already in your foods. Even common foods, like a tuna sandwich (1,300 mg of sodium) and one cup of cottage cheese (900 mg of sodium) contain too much salt and sodium.
The FDA and American Heart Association recommend no more than 1500 milligrams of salt daily for adults up to age 50 and less than that for people over 50. This is about 2/3 of a teaspoon. Most of us get 11/2 teaspoons of salt per day-that translates to about 3,400 mg of daily sodium—way too high.
Here are some tips to reduce your salt intake:
- Read food labels and check their sodium content.
- Try to opt for low-salt or no-salt versions of any particular food item.
- Consume more potassium to blunt salt’s unhealthy effects.
- Don’t add salt to your food.
- Drain and rinse canned foods.
- Avoid salty snacks.
- Use other spices to flavor your foods such as pepper, cumin, garlic or others.
- Eat more fresh whole foods instead of processed foods.
- Limit your consumption of fast food and restaurant food.
- Switch to the DASH diet way of eating.
- Train your taste buds. A 2007 study by the ADA showed that people like lower-sodium food just as much. Make the change gradually and over time.
Yehuda found the cause of his high blood pressure. The culprit was salt and sodium. He was speaking to a neighbor who had a good background in dietetics and they went through his daily diet. It turned out that he was eating a processed soya dish (vegetarian hot dogs) for lunch most days of the week. He immediately eliminated this from his diet and guess what happened? In 10 days’ time, his blood pressure returned to normal levels.
Our palates have become used to salt. Some people salt their food before they even taste it! It may take some getting used to, but lowering your salt intake is highly beneficial and ultimately you will find that most food naturally tastes good without any help from your saltshaker. Keeping your sodium and salt intake to the minimum is another way to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”