Do you love salt? Do you love diet soda? If so then you might be at risk of stroke and you might be interested in this article. There’s new research on how much salt it takes to affect our bodies in a negative way – the evidence is so convincing that I am guessing the dietary guidelines will eventually change to reflect what this new research shows. The NOMAS study has indicated that only 4000mg of sodium per day doubles your risk of stroke compared to people who consume only 1500mg. The NOMAS study followed 2,657 people for an average of 9.7 years and 187 strokes occurred among these people. The really scary thing is that you don’t even have to have high blood-pressure. The results for those with the greatest risk were independent of smoking, diabetes, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, heart disease, exercise, how many calories were consumed, age, ethnicity, race and sex. I don’t know about you, but it seems like this should be a big wake up call. It especially scares me for those of us already at greater risk for stroke – those with diabetes, cardiac disease, high blood pressure.
Just an extra quarter of teaspoon of salt a day increases your odds
The risk of stroke increased by 16% for every 500mg of sodium consumed. And 500mg is only ¼ of a teaspoon of salt! A chicken breast from a fast food place would give you that much, with more in a cheese burger, quarter pounder with cheese (1190mg) or hotcakes breakfast (2250mg). Unhappily, for those of us that eat out in restaurants and fast food places we are going to exceed 1500mg of sodium by a lot. It seems to me that food manufacturers and restaurant industry including the chains and the Mom and Pops need to begin to reduce the amount of salt used in products. Most Americans eat about 2.3 times the recommended amount of salt. The average amount of salt consumed in the NOMAS study was a bit over 3grams per day.
So what is it about salt that causes the problem?
The long and short of it is, that by salt increases our blood volume by causing our body to hang on to water. If this happens to us regularly it eventually can cause kidney damage and the kidneys can’t function as they should, to eliminate excess fluid. Having too high of a blood volume makes the artery walls grow thicker and stronger. Sounds like a good thing- like building strong muscles? Well, NO, it isn’t. Increased wall thickness means is that the area for blow flow becomes reduced, which forces blood pressure to go higher. Since oxygen is carried in the blood, where blood flow is reduced, the amount of oxygen delivered to the organs is reduced and they get damaged too.
If you want a really good overview of how excess salt affects your kidneys, arteries, heart and brain look here.
Sodium is an electrolyte and we need it
Sodium is a critical component to make our cells work properly. But food contains natural amounts of sodium so adding it is never necessary. We do it to enhance the flavor of food – and to preserve food – both things that the food service industry loves because it adds dollars to their profit margins. But excess salt not good for US, and here’s the thing, we have become so used the taste of salt on everything that we think we don’t like food without it. It takes a while to get used to adding less salt but if you are accustomed to eating too much salt then it would be prudent to work to change that.
The more you cook from scratch the healthier your food will be.
Its almost impossible to avoid salt when you eat out. Unless you want to live on salads with no dressing. Its just the way it is – and I wish I could tell you something different, but if you want to cut back on salt then you need to think about your food
Learn to read labels.
Often food labels will make claims about sodium: this is what they mean:
Sodium-Free or Salt-Free: Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving.
Low Sodium: 140 mg or less per serving.
Very Low Sodium: 35 mg or less per serving.
Without added salt, no salt added, or unsalted:
Made without the salt that’s normally used, but still contains the sodium that’s a natural part of the food.
If you use canned, boxed or frozen foods look for items with about 140mg per serve, or no more than 300mg per serve. Beware of sauces, gravies, condiments, some bread products and even cereals.
Bring a brown bag lunch to work
Plan meals and cook from scratch as much as possible
Adopt the Lower Sodium DASH diet
One of the more surprising things to come from the study
For a reason yet undetermined, there was 61% increase in your chance of stroke if you drink diet soda. Some health professionals suggest that we begin with other healthier life style changes first, before cutting back on diet soda. I guess I don’t really agree. It seems to me that swapping diet soda for a stevia sweetened beverage is a good idea AS WELL as switching to healthier food and lifestyle. “Zevia” is one sweetened soft drink alternative that has been out for a little while. Or you could just switch to water.
In any-case – the message is clear, watch your sodium – keep it around 1500mg per day and you will definitely reduce your risk of stroke.