Top | Health+Food

What’s the lowdown on salt?

(article, Marissa Lippert)

If you’ve picked up a newspaper, poked around online, or perused this site in the past few months, you know that salt is a serious hot-button topic.  

I thought a short, solid breakdown of the mineral, and its benefits and potential shortcomings, would be helpful.

Here’s a look at the current stats: 

 The amount per day of sodium that the average American consumes: more than 3,400 milligrams
 The USDA’s newly revised recommended daily sodium intake for all Americans: 1,500 milligrams (down from 2,300 milligrams for those in good health) 
 The amount of sodium in American diets from packaged or processed foods or restaurant fare: 80 percent
 The amount of sodium in products labeled “low sodium”: 140 milligrams per serving
 The ideal maximum amount per serving consumers should looking for on nutrition labels: 500 milligrams or less
 The number of Americans with hypertension: 50 million (more than 300 million citizens total)
* The amount of sodium in a half-teaspoon: 1,200 milligrams

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Measure your salt."]

Statistics aside, what’s really the big shake-up around salt?  

Our bodies require salt to regulate electrolyte and fluid balance in our cells. When it comes to our food, salt is used as a natural method of preservation, and it can do wonders to enhance the flavor of fresh ingredients when cooking. 

The key, however, is that — as with many things — a tiny amount goes a long way. So use just a sprinkle or a light shake or a measured amount in cooking. 

In moderation, salt can indeed be part of a healthy diet. But too much salt raises the risk of health problems, from heart disease and high blood pressure to lowered kidney function, stroke, osteoporosis, and weight gain.  

In a press release published just days ago, an advisory board of nutritionists and scientists appointed by the USDA and Health and Human Services found that Americans are simply consuming too much salt. The board is making the case for a more stringent crackdown on salt consumption — hence the lowered daily recommendation of 1,500 milligrams.


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Food companies and local governments are following suit. There’s a national campaign growing to force restaurants and manufacturers to lower sodium amounts in food. Major food companies such as Heinz, Kraft, and PepsiCo are already making plans to voluntarily join the National Salt Reduction Initiative started by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and lower sodium in their products by 20 percent.

The potential outcomes are very promising. According to New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, reducing sodium intake to recommended levels could “prevent 44,000 to 92,000 deaths per year in the United States and save $10 billion to $24 billion in health-care costs per year."

The big-picture potential is compelling, but how does the salt conversation really affect you and me on a daily basis?  

If the majority of our diets are made of fresh foods and whole ingredients, and we're shopping seasonally and locally when possible, it really doesn’t affect us much. Any food, nutrient, vitamin, or mineral can be targeted — for better or worse — but it’s the bigger picture we should be considering. 

What’s really on our plates? If you eat mostly packaged, processed, and fast food, you'll need to keep tabs on your sodium intake. If you’re looking for a call to action this summer, turn the tables on salt. 

Eat fresh whole foods, and experiment with using small amounts of salt — whether it’s sea salt, fleur de sel, or pink or black salt — to bring out the best in your dishes. Your taste buds and your health will be in good shape as a result.

reference-image, l