Sack the Salt, Experts Say
WebMD News Archive
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,"
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
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.