Health Team

Doctors: Leave the Salt Shaker on the Table

Posted December 13, 2007

If you are about to sit down for dinner, leave the salt shaker alone. Between 20 and 30 percent of Americans have high blood pressure, and doctors suspect too much salt or sodium in the diet is a major cause.

The Food and Drug Administration has considered placing limits on sodium in packaged foods. Some individuals, though, have taken action on their own and committed themselves to a low-sodium diet.

Ann Meyer and Barry Loftin are in the same class at WakeMed for heart patients. She has six heart stents, and he just had triple bypass surgery, but both are now dedicated to regular exercise and a healthier diet.

“I (used to) always sit down to the table and grab the salt shaker after I put my food on the table,” Loftin said.

Many Americans consume up to 6,000 milligrams of sodium per day. One typical Chinese dinner can add up to half that amount.

“Consumers don't have a clue that they're pushing that blood pressure up,” said Diane Koenning, a registered dietitian at WakeMed.

Koenning helps heart patients adjust to eating just 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day – a goal that Meyer said was hard to achieve at first.

“Food didn't have a good taste to me. It was bland. It was like, blah,” she said.

Koenning promotes flavor alternatives, including healthy oils, herbs and spices.

“If you have great ingredients, you don't have to put a ton of salt in,” she said.

Loftin and Meyers say they have learned to be wise shoppers, looking for sodium on food labels, although “it doubles and triples the time at the grocery store,” he said.

A serving of plain cheese frozen pizza has 780 milligrams of sodium.

Beyond the grocery store, eating out is another hazard. A ham biscuit, for example, could give you “1,500 milligrams a day, plus a whopping load of saturated fat,” Koenning said.

After a while, though, heart patients discover that a low-salt diet is easier to swallow.

“I'm finding, like going out to restaurants, food is too salty for me,” Myer said.

Both Meyer and Loftin succeeded in lowering their blood pressure. They said their only wish is that they had adopted regular exercise and a healthier, low-sodium diet earlier.

“I don't want to go through this, make this trip again,” Loftin said.


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  • LuvLivingInCary Dec 15, 2007

    I'll take a Double Cheeseburger from Burger King.

  • ladyblue Dec 15, 2007

    MY high blood pressure had nothing to do with salt use. My father had heart disease and several massive attacks so we were raised with out salt in the family and I never developed a taste for salt. I don't use it now either but I have high blood pressure.

  • Tommylee Dec 15, 2007

    Salt is really bad for you. Have you ever seen a slug after it had salt?

  • DayumKrazy1 Dec 15, 2007

    I read all the posts, could help because they all had good info and now I will pay more attention when buying certain foods as well.

  • whatelseisnew Dec 15, 2007

    I consume very little processed food. About the only item I still put salt on is steak. I don't know why, but I have to have that salt on my steak. UMMMMMMM GOOD

  • hi_i_am_wade Dec 14, 2007

    Better idea: stop eating out so much, start making your own quick lunches and prepare your own dinners. Avoid processed food. Drop the soft drinks, both regular and diet. I make my own sweet tea, it only takes 15 minutes most of which I'm doing something else. Do all this, and you won't need to worry about salt. In my experience, it takes the same amount of time to make my own dinner as it does to go out, and I save money too.

    Besides, you need some salt to live. If you sweat a lot, you will need more salt than those who aren't sweating. Gatorade works well in part because of salt.

  • auklet8718 Dec 14, 2007

    There is some new information out now about wheat/gluten allergy. The latest info suggests that its not the main gluten proteins that people are allergic to but one of the other associated proteins that is the most common source of reaction.

    Scientists are looking at a potential enzyme that could shut down the allergic reaction. There is also promise that in the future the allergens can be removed from the plant genetically and many people that can not currently consume wheat products will be able to do so again.

  • Steve Crisp Dec 14, 2007

    And gluten -- the great equalizer of the annual salaries for homeopaths and other quacks.

    Gluten intolerance is genetic. no ifs, ands, or buts. You either have the gene or you don't. And celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder involving the inflammation of the lining of the intestines, aggrevated at times by gluten if one is genetically predisposed to gluten intolerance.

    Celiac disease is easily tested for though a simple blood test looking for antibodies.

    If you are not positive for those antibodies, you have something else. And if you are not predisposed genetically for gluten intolerance, you can eat as much of the stuff as you want and nothing will happen except perhaps weight gain.

    One other thing to keep in mind if you decide to see a medical quack. Know those skin tests for food allergies? Most of the time they show a false positive and you are not actually allergic to the food being tested. Don't rely on them alone to determine what you diet should be.

  • Steve Crisp Dec 14, 2007

    Consuming high fructose corn syrup or any kind of simple sugars -- even in great quantities -- does not cause diabetes. Again, it will aggrivate an existing case, but it will not cause it.

    And wheat has been a staple of the human diet for as long as there have been humans. I've never heard about its effects on arthritis, but it certainly doesn't cause it. Arthritis is an autoimmune disease for the most part, though some percentage of the cases are simply worn out cartilege from overuse or abuse.

    Cholesterol? Eat away...unless you have high cholesterol AND deposition of fatty acids in your arteries. There is a strong genetic link that is seemingly unaffected by what you eat. Some people have cholesterol levels through the roof and never have problems; others have normal levels and severe artherosclerosis.

    The bottom line is that we are all genetically programmed differently. Do what is right for you, not necessarily the MGH median at one standard deviation.

  • CestLaVie Dec 14, 2007

    Wheat and gluten is in EVERYTHING too. Wheat is bad, bad for arthritis and the gluten for those with celiac's disease.

    All these additives, and more, are causing a great amount of health problems for Americans. All these in the name of shelf life or taste or fiber.