Salt and your heart health, Part I: Do we know how much salt do we eat?



When it comes to out diet, we are very particular about our sugar intake. Think about all the sugar-free products available in the market. Cola light, Coke zero, sugar-free candies, artificial sweeteners, just to name a few. This is because sugar is closely associated with weight gain, and the health problems associated with excess weight, including type 2 diabetes.

But what about salt? Excessive salt consumption can be just as dangerous to our health. High intake of dietary salt can lead to elevated blood pressure and increased risk for stroke and heart attack. This series will focus on the ongoing debate about the health consequences of dietary salt and the campaigns aimed to reduce salt consumption.

The current World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation for minimum daily salt consumption is 5 grams. Do you think you meet the recommendations? Many of us believe we do. After all, we do not eat super-salty food or put too much salt in the food we cook, right?

Unfortunately, according to health experts, most of us are not really aware how much salt we take in everyday. In most develop countries, people actually exceed the minimum daily salt requirement and 75% of the salt taken in does not originate from one’s own kitchen but from the processed food we buy at the supermarket, the Chinese take-out or pizza delivery, and even in the food we eat at restaurants.

According to Dr Cheryl AM Anderson of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD

“People are not aware of how much salt they consume, and they are struggling to meet the recommendations. Much of this is due to “the ubiquitous nature of sodium in the food supply. Sodium comes in the form of things that people don’t traditionally think of as salty. So they don’t add salt to their food at the table, but they are getting salt from the foods they eat in restaurants or from take-out. Also they are getting it through heavy consumption of breads, grains, and cereal products and, again, these aren’t foods that we would traditionally think ‘Oh they contain salt,’ which makes it very difficult for people to do what they need to do.”

This is the reason why public health campaigns meant to educate people on minimizing salt consumption never really work.

Many health experts and policy makers in developed countries realized that educating consumers alone is not enough to move the dietary salt reduction campaign forward. However, with the cooperation of the food industry, the initiative may actually work.

According to Dr Feng J He of Queen Mary University of London, UK who is an expert in salt-reduction programs worldwide:

“If you can get the food industry to gradually reduce the amount of salt added to its products, salt intake can be cut and the general public doesn’t have to do anything; they won’t notice at all; it’s easy.”

Several countries, including Japan, Portugal, Finland, and the UK have already successfully implemented salt-reduction programs through food and restaurant industries. Depending on the country, the industries joined the salt reduction initiative either voluntarily or involuntary through legislation. In the UK, the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) campaign reports a 10% reduction in dietary salt consumption since it started to work with UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the food industry in 2003. Others countries including Australia, Canada, Ireland, and the Netherlands are about to follow suit.

The US is also pondering in making such a move although there are still many sceptics who are not convinced of scientific evidence linking salt and cardiovascular health.

Dr. Anderson sits on a panel convened by the US Institute of Medicine (IoM), which has been commissioned to issue a report entitled “Population-based strategies for reducing salt intake.” The panel is expected to release the report this spring. She can’t reveal the contents of the report before its official release but she believes “the time is ripe for change.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng, heart.org

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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