Sack the Salt, Experts Say
May 17, 2000 (New York) -- Put down the salt shaker and forget super-sizing
the french fries. Cutting back on salt, say high blood pressure experts, can
not only bring high blood pressure under control but it may reduce the risk of
heart attack and stroke.
Results of a federally sponsored study, which involved more than 400 people
aged 22 or older and looked at the effect of salt intake on blood pressure,
suggests that most Americans are consuming more than twice as much salt as they
should, and that's a problem, the experts say.
Salt, according to a team led by a Harvard researcher, appears to be a major
factor in blood pressure. Frank Sacks, MD, who presented the study results at a
press conference sponsored by the American Society of Hypertension, says that
reducing daily salt intake to just 1,500 mg, instead of the 3,300 mg consumed
by most Americans, can reduce blood pressure without the use of blood pressure
medications. He says that cutting back on salt had the same positive results
regardless of age, sex, or race.
And for those who want to maximize the health impact of salt reduction, the
best approach is to combine it with a diet that emphasizes whole fruits and
vegetables instead of processed foods, he says. In the study, persons with high
blood pressure found that the combination of healthy diet and salt restriction
significantly lowered their blood pressure, Sacks says.
Systolic pressure -- the first or higher number when blood pressure readings
are given -- came down more than 11 points, and diastolic -- the second number
-- came down an average of seven points. Even persons who didn't have high
blood pressure lowered their blood pressure by restricting salt, Sacks says. He
also says that cutting back on salt can lower blood pressure even if one
doesn't switch to the healthy diet he recommends.
Currently, the government recommends a daily salt, or sodium, intake of
2,400 mg. That is too high, say Sacks and fellow researchers William Vollmer,
PhD, and Eva Obarzanek, PhD. And while the recommendation is high, reality is
worse. Sacks tells WebMD that most Americans actually take in about 3,300 mg of
salt a day.
The reason for the high salt consumption, says Obarzanek, a nutritionist at
the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is processed foods.
Manufacturers, she says, load in the sodium in the belief that it makes the
foods tastier. "A half cup of prepared spaghetti sauce contains more than
600 mg of sodium," she adds.
Vollmer, who works as a researcher at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health
Research in Portland, Oregon, agrees and says some foods should be erased from
shopping lists. "Pickles are especially bad because the sodium content
varies so much," he tells WebMD. Fast-food restaurants pose particular
challenges, says Vollmer, who adds "I used to work at one of those places
... avoid the french fries in all cases." For those who can't avoid a quick
trip to the drive through window, Obarzanek suggests taking a "hold the
pickle, hold the ketchup, add more tomatoes, and don't salt the burger,"