Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Hold the Salt

A meta-analysis in the new BMJ comes to some highly dramatic conclusions. It's recommended that you consume no more than 6 grams of salt a day but lots of people consume twice that much or more. Measurement of salt intake is problematic, but the estimate that falls out of this analysis is that adding 5g of salt a day to your diet increases the risk of stroke by 23%, and of heart disease by about 17%. Most disease endpoints are fairly uncommon, so relative risks of this size translate to low absolute risk, but heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and stroke is pretty common also. Even if these events don't kill you, you really really really don't want them to happen.

Best of all, lowering salt intake costs absolutely nothing. Once you get used to lower salt cooking, you'll find you don't miss it. Use herbs and black pepper and you'll get all the taste boost you need. You need a pinch of salt for processing in many applications, for example to draw the water out of vegetables in a mirapois, but that's fine. We're talking moderation here.

The difficulty for most people is prepared foods -- canned soups and sauces, packaged meals, that sort of thing, and of course salty snacks. Munch through some potato chips and you're done for the week. These are, of course, among the most heavily advertised "foods." And there's restaurant food, which is also generally full of salt. You want fries with that? (The glycemic spike is probably even worse than the salt load, come to think of it.)

Most people, nowadays, just aren't going to develop the skills and take the time to prepare healthy meals at home very often. That's sad but it's how we live today. The only way to get all that salt out of our diets is to give the food manufacturers and the chefs a real incentive. In other words, once again, it's a public policy and a political issue. I doubt that a salt tax would get anywhere in the present climate, but there may be more politically feasible ways of doing this.

The public health benefits are enormous, at essentially no cost. Come to think of it the potential savings in medical costs are enormous. This should be a no-brainer. But of course nothing is happening.

9 comments:

roger said...

i have found that my mirapois sans sel is quite tasty. cooking without salt for several years now has reawakened my taste buds to actual food. a tiny bit of salt goes a long way.

even processed food labeled low salt is still fairly salty. and there are all those other polysyllabic chemicals.

kathy a. said...

exactly. it is pretty easy to cook with very little salt and add real flavor with spices.

but cooking for oneself is not all that practical away from home, or when things are busy.

i really don't understand why there aren't more low-sodium choices out there in the packaged food and restaurant world. if you're going to label something "healthy," why not consider cutting the salt along with the fat?

C. Corax said...

Salt's overrated. It's exactly as Roger says: Give it up and you will start to experience the actual taste of the food you eat. And what a wonderful experience it is!

As for commercial foods, reading the sodium content in the nutrition panel can be mind boggling. The higher the sodium content, the smaller the serving size. Funny how that works.

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Anonymous said...

Pre-prep, packaged, industrialized etc. food are the main problem. As C points out, even very small portions = huge intake.

A Swiss consumer mag hazarded that 90% of (much too high overall in any case) salt in the diet came from such foods.

For an average family with 2 young kids - and here these eat three meals a day at home. The main culprits they identified, within this kind of eating habits, were:

packaged ‘dry’ soups, sauces, concentrates (bouillon cubes, soya sauce, etc), bottled sauces (ketchup, salad sauce, mayo ...), sandwich spreads, ‘all in spices’ (you buy a bag with spice in it and roast the chicken in it...); plus the ‘wet’ versions of same, such as canned soup, Hollandaise sauce, etc.

cold cuts (pre prep meat eaten cold)

cheese (the Swiss eat a LOT of cheese)

These products are traditional, and aren’t stigmatized as ‘unhealthy.‘

pre-prep frozen dishes. Lasagna being the most popular.

snacky stuff - peanuts, chips, energy bars, cookies, etc.

bottled water

and finally,

Bread, the staff of Life.

Ana

Anonymous said...

Note. from memory obviously and the no. of grams etc. I don't recall.

I was struck by how much salt there was in the pre-prep traditional products.

Ana

memory foam said...

As mentioned the easiest way to make progress in reducing salt is to avoid packaged foods. If one does this and eats a good amount of fruits and vegetables, the desire for salt drops to a much lower level. I don't think I've added salt to food on 10 years.

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