Should You Pass the Salt?

March 17, 2011

saltWhen it comes to weight loss, salt may not be the first thing you think about cutting out of your diet.

And while it???s true that salt itself is calorie-free and doesn???t contribute to weight gain, the fact is that some of the biggest sodium sources are unhealthy picks like fast food and junk food, so cutting back on salt likely means you???ll also be cutting back on some foods that are high in calories anyway.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at American???s salt consumption and found that it hasn???t changed much since the 1950s, hovering at around 3,700 mg a day on average. This may mistakenly lead one to believe salt intake isn???t a growing health issue.

However, one needs to keep in mind that it was during the 1950s that the prepackaged, processed, canned, and frozen food bonanza began, along with the once-quaint drive thru and the trend toward fast food. As a result, salt intake was high then in comparison to decades past, and it remains high today.

Since the 1950s another thing has increased ??? hypertension, or high blood pressure ??? and the resulting heart disease and strokes it can lead to if unchecked. Increased salt intake ??? and increased obesity rates ??? also contributed to this negative health trend, researchers said.

I highly suggest that my patients limit their daily salt intake to 1500 mg or less, the current recommendation of the American Heart Association and the upper limit recommended by the USDA for those at risk of heart disease, or roughly 7 out of every 10 adults.

So start checking food labels for the sodium content in packaged foods, and avoid those with high sodium or choose a low-sodium version whenever possible. (Canned soup, for example, can contain 1,200 mg of sodium per serving!) Try using more herbs or herb blends to add flavor to your food, rather than salt. And prepare meals at home, from scratch, whenever possible.

Also be on the lookout for these surprising sodium sources: soda pop and diet soda pop; canned chili; canned tomato sauce, bacon, and other cured meats; hot dogs and sausage; dry cereal; Parmesan cheese; frozen TV dinners; pancake mixes; olives; soy sauce; pickles and pickled foods; and canned vegetables.

Reducing your sodium intake may even help you shed a few pounds of ???water weight??? bloat, as well. While it???s not actual fat loss, you may find yourself feeling more comfortable in your clothes.

So go ahead ??? pass on the salt. Your heart will thank you!

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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