Limiting sodium a good idea for most

156430566My father, who has high blood pressure, has recently started using more salt, saying he has read that it’s not as bad as people think. Can that be right? 

If your father has high blood pressure, he should definitely limit his use of the salt shaker — as should most people. But it’s not hard to figure out where his confusion is probably coming from.

Earlier this year, the Institute of Medicine issued a report examining sodium intake and its relation to cardiovascular disease and death. It found higher levels of sodium are indeed associated with increased health risks. But another finding tended to get more attention: that very low sodium intake might also carry health risks. Your father might have seen those headlines and could very easily have taken them out of context.

However, the debate in nutrition circles really centers on how much most people should reduce sodium intake — not whether they should do so at all.

Most Americans simply don’t realize just how much sodium passes by their lips each day — an estimated 3,400 milligrams a day on average, far above the 2,300 milligrams that the Institute of Medicine would recommend, and more than double the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics take a middle ground, recommending 2,300 milligrams a day, or 1,500 milligrams for people in higher risk groups, including anyone 51 or older, African Americans, or those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 5 percent of Americans limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day, and only 1 percent are able to keep it to 1,500 a day.

Part of the reason is that our taste buds are used to sodium. But much of the sodium we consume doesn’t even come from the salt shaker. It’s hidden in products such as canned foods, processed frozen meals, cold cuts and bacon, cheese, pizza, burgers, soups, snacks and restaurant meals.

Different brands of the same food can vary widely in their sodium content, so it’s important to read Nutrition Facts labels. Encourage your father to keep a tally for a few days. He might be surprised at what he discovers. And, he should know that using herbs and spices instead of salt can add a burst of flavor without needing to use the salt shaker.

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