Sacramento chefs add too much salt to their soups and their freshly-baked breads. Follow an appetizer of soup in a typical Sacramento eatery followed by a sandwich of bread full of salt and filling made up of salty cheeseburgers or salty processed cold cuts. Because you eat bread frequently, such as in a sandwich, the salt adds up, usually 200 mg of salt (sodium) per slice of bread.
Then add what’s on the bread–cheese, cold cuts, pickles, relish, olives, tomato sauce, hot dogs, mustard….and the food servers keep asking if you want salt on your sandwich and then ask you whether you want a bag of chips on the side. Only a few resaturants/eateries ask you whether you’d prefer an apple to a bag of chips on the side or salty fries.
You already have too much salt for that day. Add a salad of feta cheese and olives covered in a salad dressing that’s salted and perhaps later some pizza, pretzels after a breakfast of pancakes, and the salt overdose is starting to show in milligrams. Also most canned soups contain too much salt unless you buy the low-sodium varieties.
See the studies or their abstracts, “Should dietary salt restriction be a basic component of antihypertensive therapy?” Cardiovascular Drugs and Therapy 14: 381– 386, 2000. CrossRefMedline. And check out the article from the Institute of Medicine: Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake, 2009.
Is bread giving you too much hidden salt? see the March 5, 2012 USA Today article, “Bread is a big source of Americans’ salt intake, too.” Salt is hidden in bread unless you bake the bread yourself from scratch and leave out anything containing salt such as baking soda.
Yeast doesn’t have added salt. The American Heart Association recommends that you aim to eat less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Some people are sensitive to salt due to a variation in certain kidney genes and run the risk of hypertension from eating too much salt.
UC Davis study published evidence back in 2009 that your body, specifically your brain naturally adjusts the salt levels that you need without you adjusting your salt levels from the outside. Nutritionists want the FDA dietary guidelines to stay as they are. But the study’s researchers think the FDA dietary guidelines regarding salt intake is too strict. The current FDA guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium be eaten each day, which is 14.8 percent lower than the latest research study’s lower limit of 2,700 mg of salt daily.
See the Sacramento Bee article from October 17, 2009, “Don’t sweat your salt intake, UC Davis study says,” by Anna Tong. According to that 2009 study, “Dietary Sodium and Cardiovascular Health in Hypertensive Patients, the Case Against Universal Sodium Restriction,” by UC Davis researchers published as an article in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, the human brain naturally regulates its own sodium intake for the entire body. It’s a controversial article based on a research study that has prompted nutritionists to ask more questions than the study answers.
The 2009 study gives UC Davis researchers the opportunity to challenge FDA guidelines asking consumers to reduce sodium levels when eating, especially when choosing processed or restaurant food.
Other products have too much salt as well. For example there’s more salt in most pancake mixes than in a bag of potato chips. But you need to know the size of the bag of chips and how many pancakes you’re comparing to chips.
The biggest source of salt in the American diet is bread. In addition you have the problem of wheat allergies and glucose intolerance among some people. But even if you’re buying a no-grain bread, most bakers add salt to preserve the shelf life of the bread.
You obtain twice as much salt (sodium) from bread and rolls as they do from snacks such as potato chips and pretzels, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just one slice of bread weighing an ounce contains between 100 and 200 milligrams of salt, depending on the type and brand. If you eat only one ounce of potato chips, you’ll be eating about 120 milligrams or more of salt.
Other top sources of salt (sodium) include cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup, fast-food burgers, sandwiches, and cheese and pasta dishes.
You get all that salt by eating more bread in sandwiches, including those long, vertical sandwiches made mostly of thick bread and little filling. Check out the CDC’s statistics on salt contained in baked bread. Here is a list of the saltiest foods in the American diet. Note that in other countries, people may consume even more salt and sodium, including MSG added to foods to enhance the flavor.
The saltiest foods include:
Breads, rolls, pizza
Cold cuts and processed deli meats
Canned and restaurant soups
Poultry, particularly chicken puffed up with salty water
Cheeses such as salty feta cheese and salty nondairy cheese substitutes
Sandwiches and burgers with melted cheese served on rolls, buns, or bread
Macaroni, pasta, spaghetti cooked in salty water and then served with salty tomato sauces instead of tomato paste and low sodium tomato or vegetable juices.
Savory snacks such as olives, anchovies, and other vegetables or even eggs pickled in brine, Spam slices, and meat or poultry tenderized with MSG or other sodium-based flavor extenders.
Textured vegetable protein added to extend ground meat.
Condiments such as sauerkraut, pickles, and pickled vegetables that use salty brine instead of vinegar. If you check out the sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you’ll find data showing that Americans get most of the excess salt in processed and restaurant foods.
Excess salt in some processed foods and canned soups, vegetables, beans, or stews
You don’t need 1,000 mg of salt in canned soups or 500 to 800 mg of salt in canned vegetables. Low sodium soups can taste great with only 120 mg of salt. But only a few supermarkets carry low sodium soups that are lower than 140 mg of salt per serving. Usually a serving is 1/2 of the can of soup.
Also baked beans usually have added salt. The low-sodium varieties may have sugar added to tomato paste which is meant to replace the salt and still offer added taste of sweet sugar.
The excess salt comes from what’s already in the food when you buy it rather than from your salt shaker or your home cook’s addition of salt to the food as it cooks. According to the CDC report, many people consume an average 3,266 milligrams of sodium a day, or about 1½ teaspoons, excluding the salt added at the table.
Why do restaurant chefs add salt to the soups instead of letting the customer add salt from the shakers on the table? Could it be because the staff doesn’t want the expense of having to fill up the salt shakers? Or is seasoning with spices and herbs such as garlic, onions, dill, and lemon too expensive and salt is cheap when it’s not salt from the sea or flakes of sea vegetables.
The CDC has dietary guidelines suggesting that consumers reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams. But for older adults and those with high blood pressure, kidney problems or others, the CDC advises that you reduce your daily salt intake to 1,500 milligrams for people 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
There’s enough salt in foods naturally to take care of your body’s need for salt, particularly if you eat seafood or sea vegetables, fruits, carrots, parsley, celery, and other vegetables which also have balanced amounts of potassium and magnesium. If you’re salt sensitive, your body may hold fluid in your body needed to rinse out the excess salt.
This burdens your heart, according to the American Heart Association. Too much table salt in the diet may also increase the risk for stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.
The idea is balance. Try seasoning food with herbs and spices instead of salt. And if you use salt, choose clean sea salt or other edible salt types that have certain trace minerals needed by your body. One example is Celtic salt. Another is Real salt as far as possible brands you find in health foods stores rather than supermarkets.
Of course the Salt Institute is concerned with the businesses that make a living selling salt. So choose the type of salt you buy wisely and balance the amount with what your body needs. Read the studies that counter salt restriction and find out whether your body balance comes from adding salt to foods or using what salt already is in the foods such as what’s in parsley, spinach, carrots, and celery.
Who would you believe if you read just one study on how much salt you can eat? What if that study revealed that your brain adjusts your body’s salt levels? Yet many Sacramento HMOs may suggest that you to cut the salt to about 1,000 mg daily of sodium or less if you have high blood pressure or if you have a kidney gene variant that contributes to high blood pressure, or if you have a gene which doesn’t allow your body to make enough nitric oxide to lower your blood pressure to normal levels, or if you’re salt-sensitive (which means your blood pressure rises when you eat anything with added salt).
So who do you believe when it comes to your own body’s sensitivity or other reaction, if any, to salt? Cut the salt, lower the salt in restaurant foods, or find out whether you’re salt sensitive? Also see the abstract of the study, “More Mixed Messages in Terms of Salt.”
According to the study, “Dietary Sodium and Cardiovascular Health in Hypertensive Patients, the Case Against Universal Sodium Restriction,” the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology reports in the newly published abstract of the study that, “Only a single study has been reported in hypertensive patients that links baseline sodium, measured by 24-hour urinary excretion, and subsequent cardiovascular outcomes.”
In that study, controlling for other risk factors, there was a “significant, independent, inverse association of urinary sodium excretion and coronary morbidity and mortality. Indeed, an increase of 66 mmol/24 h was associated with a 36% reduction in events.”
The study’s abstract reports, “Taken together, these data provide no support for the notion that either normotensive or hypertensive individuals should routinely decrease (or increase) dietary sodium intake.” So what should you do, decrease or increase your salt intake or just follow your doctor’s orders without asking?
That’s the decision nutritionists are trying to make based on the evidence. And nutritionists also are asking is the plausible evidence valid for people in various health situations? What if your kidneys are not doing well on the salt diet you have? That’s a medical question answerable only by your personal physician and medical team.
The study doesn’t even mention what happens when restaurants or food packagers process foods not only with a lot of added salt, but also flavor extenders such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) to amplify flavor. When adding salt to food or even MSG and salt, is the motive possibly to get customers addicted to the enhanced taste so they’d buy more of the same food and make more money for the food industry or restaurant?
Or is the real reason for adding so much salt or other types of sodium or even calcium chloride, known to raise blood pressure in some people who are sensitive to it, to processed food simply to preserve the food or its color?
What the study actually was focusing on is whether the body adjusts to sodium levels naturally, regardless of what you put in your body. And the brain is what does the adjusting.
Just as government intervention had proposed an ideal level of salt intake for restaurants and food processing companies to think about and voluntary reduce salt in their products, this new study comes out in the face of nutrition policy advocates that want to inform people to reduce sodium intake because excess sodium, most nutritionists say, is not healthy.
Physicians know there are salt sensitive people as well as salt resistant people. It’s genetic. Either you have a common gene variant that controls how your kidneys process and eliminate excess salt in a certain way, or you have a salt resistant gene that lets your kidneys process and get rid of salt in another way.
Scientists know that around 60 percent of hypertensive people where the cause usually is said to be unknown may be sensitive to salt and react to excess salt by releasing renin and a form of angiotensin, whereby the blood pressure could be raised too high.
It’s supposed to be genetic the way you handle salt. But the new study now is controversial because it is saying sodium (salt) intake is regulated by the brain. Now you have to separate the human reaction to salt (sodium) as in bicarbonate of soda from sodium chloride (table salt).
You have to ask whether it’s the choloride raising the blood pressure in salt-sensitive people rather than the sodium. In some cases, a small amount of sodium from baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) doesn’t raise the blood pressure. So is it the choloride in sodium, just as calcium chloride raises blood pressure when it’s put in some canned vegetables to preserve color? These are some questions nutritionists are asking.
What annoys nutritionists is that for years emphasis has been put on restaurants and food packagers and processors to lower the salt they put in food such as bread, frozen meals, canned soups, cheese, and other processed food items including restaurant food. The new study is saying that because sodium intake is regulated by your brain, your own body won’t let you eat outside of that boundary. Your brain controls how much salt your body needs.
Nutritionists disagree and argue that if you put food in front of a person, the individual won’t be able to tell how much salt his or her brain is going to limit the person from eating at that meal or during the day. Researchers also say that although the food supply contains too much salt, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are eating that much salt.
On the other hand, the UC Davis researchers explain that your brain won’t let you go very far outside the boundary of how much salt your brain tells your body that you really need. The argument nutritionists have against the new evidence is that they might doubt your body actually would gravitate toward low sodium foods once you had enough salt?
What do you think? In the study, researchers collected data from 20,000 adults in 32 countries. What researchers looked at was the evidence that the adult range of sodium intake was a narrow 2,700 to 4,900 mg of sodium (table salt or sea salt) each day.
The cultures varied widely. This amount of sodium is far beyond what doctors, nutritionists, and HMOs hand out to patients to keep their salt levels below 1,500 mg a day if they have essential high blood pressure, and around 2,000 mg a day if they are not salt sensitive and don’t have high blood pressure.
What the new research concludes is that people all over the world keep a normal range of salt intake for their own body, a pretty strict lower and upper limit on salt intake as determined by the human brain controlling what the rest of the body will eat.
The amount of salt the FDA recommends as the upper limit, is that for large males or small women, both, or averaged out? That’s one question consumers would like to know. As for the study, even thought he evidence is clear, what should the priorities be for the average consumer–on salt intake or on childhood obesity?
That’s the big nutrition question of the year. The studies are scientifically plausible. But as a consumer, who are you going to follow, your doctor that tells you to eat less salt to avoid the risk of heart disease and strokes or because your blood pressure is too high? Or the plausible evidence of the study?
Where you could turn to in order to read information on the topic is the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, DC nutritional advocacy group. Should you lower your salt intake or not — keeping balance in mind?
You’ll find information online telling you to do one or the other. High salt intake mostly comes from processed foods. In prehistoric times, humans didn’t use salt at all. They received salt from eating foods that already contain salt such as various animal proteins and plants such as celery, carrots, and parsley.
If you look at various tribes in Australia, for example and other areas of the world, many don’t add salt to their natural foods and live on less than 1,000 mg of sodium daily. You can search the names of these areas online or look at the programs in various European countries such as Finland that has mixed magnesium in salt shakers on some restaurant tables in the past to get people to balance their sodium intake with magnesium and other multiple minerals in small, balanced amounts.
The decision you’ll have to make as a consumer is whether the amount of salt you eat is posing a risk of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke or not, or whether your multiple minerals are balanced and in small enough amounts not to do any harm.
So the ball is back in the nutritionist’s court for now, but of course, the studies do go on, and the research, remember, is plausible. For further information, see the Sacramento Bee article, October 17, 2009, “Don’t sweat your salt intake, UC Davis study says,” by Anna Tong.
So whose side are you going to take– the UC Davis researchers, Center for Science in the Public Interest, or the UC Davis nutritionists? How much salt do you eat daily? And is your health fine or challenged based on your sodium intake based on your genetic expression?
Michael H. Alderman
Dietary Sodium and Cardiovascular Health in Hypertensive Patients: The Case against Universal Sodium Restriction
Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Jan 2004; 15: S47 – S50. Published: Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009.
Eric N. Taylor, Teresa T. Fung, and Gary C. Cu DASH-Style Diet Associates with Reduced Risk for Kidney Stones August 13, 2009.
Journal of the American Society of Nephrology 20: 2253-2259. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. “More Mixed Messages in Terms of Salt.”