Low Salt Diet Saves Lives

salt-crystlsWorking for a small company that does most of its business online means that we don’t have the seasonal celebrations that most bigger companies hold. No company picnics…  no three legged races…  no sunburned co-workers.

So when the building owner for our office invited the entire building to a barbecue on Wednesday, I thought it would be a great way to meet some of the others who work in the building for other companies. There was a great turnout—the building owner made sure of that by holding an emergency drill for the building right at noon!

So, everyone was milling around in the open patio near the parking lot. There was plenty of barbecue chicken and steak, caesar salad, potato salad, corn, beans, soda, iced tea, water, and cookies and brownies for dessert.

A typical menu for this type of American event.

But, I had forgotten just how much salt food like this could have. My stomach was happy when I left the barbecue but it didn’t take long for an overwhelming thirst to set in.

After multiple cups of water and green tea, I finally began to feel normal again. Sigh… too much salt in that food. I made a mental note to drink water and mingle rather than eat at the next event.

Since my Dad died, I have spent time pondering what I could do differently to prevent getting the multiple illnesses that plagued him—diabetes, heart disease, stroke, prostate cancer and kidney failure.

Skipping the beer  and hard alcohol was an easy one. Cutting back on fat was not so hard to do. Ditto the sugar and empty refined carbs. (Ok, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t sometimes miss delectable crumb cake,  raised donuts and New York cheesecake.)

But, kicking the salt habit took a lot longer. I had great motivation—my husband needs to keep his blood pressure under control. So we began a journey together to a low salt diet.

Out went the chips and crackers. I modified each home-cooked recipe to remove as much salt as possible.

Surprise! Our taste buds adjusted to like unsalted foods.

But going out to dinner is like walking in a field full of mines. Can I find the right items that don’t have much salt in them? Sadly, not at the barbecue.

If each American cut salt intake by 1 teaspoon (3g) a day, there would be 120,000 fewer strokes, 99,000 fewer heart attacks and 92,000 fewer deaths in the next year. –Spry Magazine, May 2010.

Salt is essential for life. But, most Americans are fooled into eating far too much. It is hidden in prepared foods and snacks.

Want to prove it? Keep track of what you eat for a day. Record the amount of salt in the food you eat and the recipes you prepare.

Unless you prepare all of your food from scratch and omit salt in every recipe, you’ll be shocked to discover that you get waaaay more salt than the 1500 -2400 milligrams recommended as healthy.

Bread, donuts, breakfast cereal, cheese, lunch meat, tomato sauce, salad dressings, salsa, corn chips, potato chips, canned vegetables, packaged meals and restaurant meals all have added amounts of salt that can tip you over your daily allowance well before your lunch is over.

My Dad would skip the mayo (78 mg of sodium) on his ham (286 mg of sodium) sandwich but then eat cottage cheese (300 mg of sodium) and canned pineapple. Overall, he did cut down on his sodium intake but never as much as he really needed.

When you are 83 years old, giving up favorite foods is exceedingly difficult to do. And, it’s not much easier for a 50 something daughter.

I’ve tackled this puzzle by buying less packaged food and cooking more at home. I purchase chicken broth,  tomato sauce and salsa with no added salt. For regular snacks, I get unsalted almonds.

But, sometimes even I forget to glance at the label. The other day I bought plain cottage cheese made by a dairy that specializes in “healthy foods” (300 mg of sodium per half cup) when I should have gotten plain yogurt (125 mg of sodium per half cup) for a between-meal calcium boost.

It takes perseverance to lower the salt in your regular meals because extra salt is everywhere. But, saving 120,000 people from strokes and 99,000 from heart attacks is a really important reason to do it.

And, you may just save the life of your spouse, your children, or your own.

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