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Sodium-saturated diet is a threat for all

December 29, 2011
By

Maybe you think you don’t have to worry about salt. After all,
you don’t have high blood pressure, you’re not overweight and you
exercise regularly.

Well, think again. A major study, based on data from more than
12,000 U.S. adults, took into account all those risk factors for
death from heart disease. The researchers found that while a diet
high in sodium — salt is the main source — increases your risk,
even more important is the ratio of sodium (harmful) to potassium
(protective) in one’s diet.

When people whose meals contained little sodium relative to
potassium were compared with those whose diets had a high
sodium-to-potassium ratio, the latter were nearly 50 percent more
likely to die from any cause and more than twice as likely to die
from ischemic heart disease during a follow-up period averaging
14.8 years.

Although there has been on-and-off controversy about the value
of limiting dietary salt, there is no question that a high level of
sodium in the diet raises blood pressure and the risk of chronic
hypertension by stiffening arteries and blocking nitric oxide,
which relaxes arteries. Hypertension, in turn, contributes to heart
disease and stroke, leading causes of death.

Potassium, on the other hand, activates nitric oxide and thus
reduces pressure in the arteries, lowering the risk of
hypertension.

“We controlled for all the major cardiovascular risk factors and
still found an association between the sodium-potassium ratio and
deaths from heart disease,” said Dr. Elena V. Kuklina, a
nutritional epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and an author of the study, published earlier this year
in Archives of Internal Medicine. “With age, the risk of high blood
pressure increases. The lifetime risk in this country is 90
percent. If you live long enough, you’re at risk.”

OUR HIGH-SALT DIET

Ninety percent of the sodium in the U.S. diet comes from salt,
three-fourths of which is consumed in processed and restaurant
foods. Salt added in home cooking and at the table accounts for
only a minor proportion of sodium intake.

The body’s requirement for sodium is very low — only 220
milligrams a day — but the average American consumes more than
3,400 milligrams daily. The current Dietary Guidelines for
Americans recommend a maximum of 2,300 milligrams (about a teaspoon
of salt) for people over age 2, but only 1,500 milligrams for the
70 percent of adults at high risk of sodium-induced illness: people
older than 50, all blacks, and everyone with high blood pressure,
diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

Despite widespread efforts to get people to consume less sodium,
intake of this nutrient has increased significantly since the early
1970s as consumption has risen of processed and restaurant foods,
which rely heavily on salt as a cheap way to enhance flavor and
texture and preserve food. Because salt is categorized by the Food
and Drug Administration as GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe,”
there is no limit to the amount food producers can use in a
product.

To make matters worse, not only does the amount of sodium rise
precipitously when foods like tomatoes and potatoes are processed,
but the natural potassium in these foods declines significantly,
worsening the sodium-potassium ratio.

The profligate use of salt in foods prepared outside the home
has created an American preference for a salty taste, a preference
that can be reversed with no loss of consumer pleasure if done
slowly, said Dr. Thomas A. Farley, commissioner of New York City’s
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

His department is leading a national effort started in 2008 to
get food producers and restaurants to gradually reduce the salt in
their products. Thus far, 28 national food companies, retailers and
supermarket chains, including Kraft, Subway, Target and Delhaize
America, have made a commitment to the National Salt Reduction
Initiative to cut sodium in their products by an average of 25
percent by 2014.

But Dr. Jane E. Henney, chairwoman of the committee that
produced the Institute of Medicine report, said this is still just
a voluntary effort, and to make a lasting nationwide difference in
sodium intake, the government needs to push harder for change. The
report said, “What is needed is a coordinated effort to reduce
sodium in foods across the board by manufacturers and restaurants —
that is, create a level playing field for the food industry.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Kuklina recommends eating fewer processed foods, especially
processed meats, more fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products
that are low in sodium, like yogurt and milk. Increase your
potassium intake not by taking supplements but by eating more
cantaloupe, bananas, oranges, grapes, grapefruit, blackberries,
yogurt, dried beans, leafy greens, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

When ordering in a restaurant, she suggests, ask that your food
be prepared without added salt and your vegetables steamed, and
always request that salad dressings and sauces be served on the
side, enabling you to use far less than the chef might. Consider
splitting an order between two people, which would cut the salt
intake in half. And if a dish arrives that is too salty, send it
back to the kitchen.

Article source: http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/health-med-fit/fitness/97cc5e7b-c815-5cea-8372-62be4d8e5b2c.html

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