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Why You Should Shake the Salt Habit

New studies are now showing that a diet high in sodium is even more dangerous than we first thought.

Which of the following is true of salt? (a) It’s addictive. (b) It will make you fat. (c) It will kill you. (d) All of the above.

If you chose (d), you’re right. Salt is one of the most dangerous ingredients in our food.

It’s no secret that a high-sodium diet raises blood pressure, which in turn can cause heart attacks and strokes. But new studies show that salt is even more dangerous: Eating too much has been linked to osteoporosis, dementia, cancer, and other serious health problems. It can also add inches to your waist.

Based on this research, the US government is revisiting its sodium guidelines. The new thinking is that adults should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day (two-thirds of a teaspoon), down from the previous limit of less than 2,300 mg.

This adjustment means that Americans are seriously overdosing on salt, getting 3,436 mg a day or more.  This is more than double the recommended amount. Where’s all this sodium coming from? The greatest concern isn’t the flaky stuff you shake on at the table–it’s the salt that’s already hidden in your food. The biggest culprits are processed and packaged foods and breads, which load up on salt for flavor but also for color and texture and to prevent spoilage. About 80% of the sodium in our diets is found in the premade crackers, cookies, breads, cereals, soups, frozen dinners, and pasta sauces we eat at home. And that doesn’t even cover fast food and other restaurant meals. This is just salt, you’d be amazed to see all the hidden sugars.

Why Salt Is Addictive

Your body does need some sodium–to maintain the right balance of fluids, transmit nerve impulses, and to contract and relax your muscles–but only about 500 mg per day. When you eat far more than that, your brain chemistry is altered.

Research shows that consuming salt triggers the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s pleasure center, making salty foods as addictive as nicotine and alcohol. Therefore, as with any addiction, eating salty foods makes you crave more. Since so many of them–like French fries and fast-food sandwiches–are also high in fat and calories, OD’ing on salt packs on the pounds.

Loading up on salt also increases thirst. This wouldn’t be an issue if we usually turned to water–but we don’t. Instead we turn to sodas or processed juices or “vita-water”.  Research has found a close link between the consumption of salt and intake of sugary beverages. (Diet sodas aren’t the answer: They’re full of sodium! Honest!)

Eating too much salt may cause weight gain in less noticeable ways too–by changing how your body makes and metabolizes fat. Studies show that a high-salt diet boosts the production of insulin, the hormone that tells the body to store excess sugar as fat. Simply put, the more insulin you have, the more fat you store and the more weight you gain.

The Silent Killer

It’s no longer just heart attacks and strokes you need to worry about if you eat too much salt. Evidence now connects sodium to other serious health problems, including:

Cancer: Salted foods are linked to a 15% increase in cancer risk, according to a 2010 Japanese study. In other research, high salt intake has been associated with deaths from stomach cancer. Salty foods irritate the stomach lining, which can cause infection by H. pylori, bacteria that lead to stomach cancer.

Osteoporosis: High-salt diets have been shown to increase calcium loss, which weakens bone and leads, over time, to osteoporosis. A 2-year study of postmenopausal women connected a decrease in hip bone density to sodium intake.

Diabetes: Eating lots of salt may promote insulin resistance. Diabetes already puts you at greater risk of hypertension and heart disease– and a high salt intake only raises these risks.

Dementia: Hypertension may also affect your brain. Results of the 2010 Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, which took MRI scans of 1,400 women age 65 or older, revealed that those with high blood pressure had more abnormal brain lesions 8 years later. Other research shows that people with hypertension are up to 600% more likely to develop stroke-related dementia.

Sleep Apnea: High blood pressure is a villain here too. It is a vicious cycle–sleep apnea causes sleep deprivation, which can increase blood pressure.

Kidney Disease: Hypertension eventually damages blood vessels throughout your body, including the kidneys. The damage can be gradual: Symptoms may not occur until kidney function is less than 10% of normal.

Simple Steps to Break Your Salt Addiction

Salt is one of the most widely used condiments in the world, but too much of it can be a bad thing. This simple plan is to help you cut back on salt and improve your health, by simple, easy steps.

Note, this doesn’t mean you have to completely sacrifice salt. Take some of those foods you love, like salsa or a certain salad dressings and experiment making them yourself. Salsa at home can be made with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lemon, vinegar, and spices, the homemade version is relatively salt-freke. In addition to this, add to your health each week, (if you indulge), work on dropping a fast food or convenience food, like your usual 3 p.m. vending-machine buy or drive-through stop. Fast-food grabs are some of the worst salt offenders in our diets, so it’s important to work on dropping those as well.

Pay attention to other minerals in your diet.

Sometimes people go in for the salt because they are lacking in other essential minerals and nutrients such as magnesium, calcium and zinc. These nutrients lurk in some really good foods:

Magnesium can be found in leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains and avocado. Get a full magnesium grocery list here.

Calcium is found in dairy products, cheeses, tofu yogurts and sesame seeds to name a few.

Zinc is found in lentils, cashews, quinoa, chickpeas, shrimp, oysters and pumpkin seeds.

The key is not to use the salted variants of these foods, such as salted nuts. Remember to also stay hydrated. Salt levels are impacted by hydration, and when we are thirsty we can crave salt. Avoid diet sodas and sport drinks that can be full of sodium, and stick with water to quench your thirst. Water too plane for ya, add some fresh cut lemon slices or cucumber slices, both add that “something” to your water.

Shake the shaker.

Even though most of the salt in our diet comes from processed and other prepared foods, we still add salt to food, and that adds up. In fact, just a half teaspoon of salt contains about 1200 mg of sodium, which is anywhere from half or more of our daily allowance. Keep your saltshaker off the table, have the waiter remove it when you’re out dinning in a restaurant, and consider emptying your shaker altogether. To help you stay accountable, put a quarter to a half-teaspoon of salt in your shaker in it in the morning. Once you use that, you are done with the salt you can add to your food each day. To skip adding salt to food completely, take an interesting spice, like paprika, and put that in your shaker instead. It will give you a zing without the sodium. Another alternative is look for herbal seasonings, there’s all kinds of ways to season things without the shaker!

Some other great condiments to give you that zing flavor that you can keep in your shaker or at the table:  lemon, vinegar, flavored vinegar, garlic powder (not garlic salt), and chili or spicy spices if you like heat. Just make sure that any spices or spice mixes you use don’t contain added salt or sodium.

This information has been compiled for informational use only. Should you decide to use a “diet” to reduce your use of salt, please consult with your primary physician. They can help you along your journey.

 

Try one of these easy-to-make juice recipes as you slowly cut your sale intake. They’re packed with healthy minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium, all of which rid the body of excess sodium. Be sure to stay hydrated!

Enjoy!!

Almond-Blueberry and Banana Smoothie

Combine 1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk, ¾ of a medium frozen banana, 1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries, 1 cup chopped kale, 5 unsalted whole almonds, and 2 teaspoons honey into a blender. Puree until smooth, about 1-2 minutes and serve.

Calories: 323 Sodium: 300 mg Potassium: 957 mg Calcium: 413 mg Magnesium: 89 mg

 

Banana-Spinach Smoothie

Combine 1 medium frozen banana, 1 cup fresh spinach, 1 cup plain unsweetened soy milk, 2 ½ teaspoons almond butter, and 1 teaspoons honey in a blender. Puree until smooth, about 1-2 minutes and serve.

Calories: 319 Sodium: 174 mg Potassium: 805 mg Calcium: 359 mg Magnesium: 72 mg

 

Berry-Mango Smoothie

Combine 1 cup chopped kale, ¾ cup frozen mixed berries, ¾ cup milk, ½ medium frozen banana, 1.2 cup fresh or frozen mango cubes, and 2 teaspoons honey in a blender. Puree until smooth, about 1-2 minutes and serve.

Calories: 321 Sodium: 191 mg Potassium: 934 mg Calcium: 526 mg Magnesium: 88 mg

 

As always, in Health and Peace,

Kris

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