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Sack the Salt, Experts Say

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Fast-food quips aside, Sacks says the study has serious public health implications. Restricting salt and switching to a healthy diet could "result in a 20% reduction in the prevalence of heart attacks and 35% reduction in strokes," he says. Those reductions would be seen in people with and without high blood pressure, he says.

It is possible, Sacks says, that "a person taking blood pressure medications may be able to reduce their reliance on medications by switching to this diet," he says. For example, a person taking two drugs to control blood pressure might be able to discontinue one of the medications, Sacks says.

Vollmer tells WebMD that the take-home message is "to eat fewer processed foods." He says, however, that it's best to take a realistic approach. He suggests, for example, that whole foods be prepared without salt during the cooking process and that salt should be added when the foods are served. He says that the researchers found that cooking with salt doesn't improve taste but does leave harmful amounts of salt behind. "We found that adding the salt after preparation can satisfy the 'taste for salt,' but uses less salt to do so," Vollmer says. He says that people may initially find food less tasty, but after a few days when the body becomes used to less last, most people will begin to complain about the salty taste when served foods seasoned the "normal" way.

Obarzanek says that the study findings suggest that "obviously, salted foods, such as potato chips, have no place in a healthy diet. We need to teach people to read labels to find out sodium content, and we need to get the food industry on board to make more low-sodium foods available," she says.

Vital Information:

  • Studies show most people eat 3,300 mg of salt daily. The U.S. government recommends Americans limit salt intake to 2,400 mg a day. But researchers say keeping salt consumption to 1,500 mg a day can reduce blood pressure and possibly allow patients to stop blood pressure medication.
  • The researchers say cutting back on salt helps your health regardless of your age, sex, or race. For maximum results, researchers urge people to combine low-salt diet with a lot of fruit and vegetables and avoid processed foods, which tend to be loaded with salt.
  • The changes in lifestyle could translate into significant reductions in heart attacks and strokes -- both in people who have high blood pressure and those who don't.
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