A little salt goes a long way

Posted Online: March 25, 2013, 12:33 pm
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Bushra Tayh, btayh@qconline.com
DEAR DOCTOR K: I've always enjoyed my food well-seasoned. Now my doctor wants me to cut down on my salt intake. Any suggestions?
DEAR READER: Salt (sodium chloride) is like many other things in our food: We need it, just not in the amounts we take in. For most of us, the salt in our diet is too much of a good thing.
Salt helps our nerves transmit impulses. Muscle fibers need salt to contract and relax. Sodium helps the body maintain a proper fluid balance. (Not to mention it makes our food taste good!) But it doesn't take much sodium to accomplish any of these essential jobs. And consuming too much salt can put you at risk for high blood pressure, stroke and heart problems.
How can you cut down? Start by getting a sense of where the salt in your diet comes from. I've put a table on my website, AskDoctorK.com, that lists the top sources of sodium in the American diet. You might be surprised by how much salt there is in certain foods.
The most sodium-heavy foods we eat tend to be processed ones. So minimize the amount of foods that are salted, smoked or cured, such as cold cuts, bacon and cheese. The same goes for canned soups and vegetables, mixes for baked goods and other prepared foods that are high in salt. With packaged foods you get in the market, the Nutrition Source label tells you how much salt is in the food. With canned soups, for example, you'll find some have a lot less than others.
Replace processed foods with foods made from scratch. Eat more vegetables and fruits, which contain no added salt.
You may be skeptical, but it is entirely possible to wean yourself off a taste for salt. Your taste buds easily can adapt if you cut back a little at a time. Replace salt with herbs, spices and flavorings. Experiment with garlic, oregano, rosemary, curry, cinnamon and smoked paprika. Lemon juice and flavored vinegars, and fragrant oils such as sesame or walnut, offer a sodium-free taste boost. (But beware of store-bought sauces that tend to contain a lot of salt.)
When you eat out, if your food is being made to order, ask that it be made without salt. And ask for gravies or sauces (which tend to be loaded with salt) to be served on the side. If you're eating in a chain restaurant, it may have a menu that tells you the amount of salt (and saturated fats, cholesterol and other nutrients) in each meal.
I know how hard it can be to cut down on salt. I once had a patient who arrived at the hospital in heart failure. She swore she was following her low-salt diet. As she was being wheeled to get a chest X-ray, I saw her pull a salami out of her purse and start eating it. When I asked her about it, she shrugged. "I love it, doctor," she said. "At my age, I love it maybe more than life itself."
(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.)


Local events heading

  Today is Thursday, July 31, the 212th day of 2014. There are 153 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: A corps of surgeons now occupies the new hospital quarters at the Garrison Hospital on the Rock Island Arsenal. A fence has been installed to enclose the prison hospital.
1889 -- 125 years ago: B. Winter has let a contract to Christ Schreiner for a two story brick building with a double store front on the south side of 3rd Avenue just west of 17th Street. The estimated cost was $4,500.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Germany sent simultaneous ultimatums to Russia and France, demanding that Russia suspend mobilization within 12 hours and demanding that France inform Germany within 18 hours. In the case of war between Germany and Russia, France would remain neutral.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Civil service offices at the post office and the Rock Island Arsenal were swamped as more than 700 youths sought 15 machinist apprenticeships at the Arsenal.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Last night, American Legion Post 246 in Moline figuratively handed over the trousers to a female ex-Marine and petticoat rule began. Olga Swanson, of Moline, was installed as the first woman commander of the post .
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Illinois Quad City Civic Center captured the excitement and interest of a convention of auditorium managers this weekend in Reno, Nev. Bill Adams, civic center authority chairman, said the 10,000-seat arena planned for downtown Moline has caught the eye of construction firms, suppliers, management teams and concession groups.

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