Warning Labels for Salt

Since childhood we've been told go easy on the salt, and as it appears, for good reason. According to Dr. Fuhrman salt consumption is dangerous; heightening risk of stomach cancer, hypertension, and osteoporosis. Consider this excerpt from Eat to Live:

Any excess salt added to food, outside of what is contained in natural foods, is likely to increase your risk of developing disease. Salt consumption is linked to both stomach cancer and hypertension.1 For optimal health, I recommend that no salt at all be added to any food. The famous DASH study clearly indicates that Americans consume five to ten times as much as they need and that high sodium levels over the years has a predictable effect on raising blood pressure.2 Just because you don't have high blood pressure now doesn't mean that you won't. In fact, your probably will have high blood pressure if you keep eating lots of salt over the years.

Dr. Fuhrman references research by The Lancet which bolsters salt's villainous reputation:

Salt also pulls out calcium and other trace minerals in the urine when the excess is excreted, which is a contributory cause of osteoporosis.3 If that is not enough, high sodium intake is predictive of increased death from heart attacks. In a large prospective trial, recently published in the respected medical journal The Lancet, there was a frighteningly high correlation between sodium intake and all cause mortality in overweight men.4 The researchers concluded, "High sodium intake predicted mortality and risk of coronary heart disease, independent of other cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure. These results provide direct evidence of the harmful effects of high salt intake in the adult population."

So when you consider all this, it should come to no surprise that the American Medical Association is moving to slash the nation's sodium intake by half over the next decade. According to HealthDay News warning labels are being proposed for high-salt foods:

"Sodium or salt intake is a growing problem in this country, and high-salt foods are associated with a lot of processed foods which, in general, aren't necessarily the healthiest foods," said Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Any education or labeling is always helpful."

"I think it would be helpful to the American public to have a better understanding of the amount of sodium in foods they consume. There is hidden sodium in many foods, for example baked goods and bagels," added Samantha Heller, senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City.

Spotting these high-salt items isn't always easy, since many pass the "taste test," Heller said.

"High-sodium foods do not necessarily taste salty, because sodium is used not just for taste but as a preservative, flavor enhancer and for texture," she said. "More than 75 percent of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed food, not the salt shaker on the table."

But as Amanda Gardner reports this proposal is drawing fire from the food industry.

"Rather than additional government requirements, what is needed is consumer education. For example, advice on sodium consumption can be found in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans," Robert Earl, senior director of nutrition policy for the Food Products Association, said in a statement.

"It is important for consumers to know that the amount of sodium in foods is clearly labeled on food packaging, and that a broad range of foods containing no sodium or low sodium, or with no added salt, are widely available," he added. "This broad range of food products on the market -- coupled with the information contained on the Nutrition Facts panel and food labels -- are critical components that enable consumers to choose food products that are appropriate for their dietary needs."

Did you know there is a Salt Institute? I didn't. Apparently they're miffed by the proposal as well:

"The American Medical Association has misread the science, confusing blood pressure effects with health outcomes. Of the 13 studies that have examined whether cutting salt will reduce heart attacks or improve mortality -- what AMA calls 'the population burden of cardiovascular disease' -- not a single study supports the AMA resolution," institute president Richard L. Hanneman said in a statement. "Following the AMA recommendation is scientifically unjustified, and a waste of time and money. What we really need is a controlled trial of the health outcomes of salt reduction."

Dr. Fuhrman discourages salt consumption. Advocating people resist adding salt to foods and only purchase salt-free canned goods. He explains, "Since most salt comes from processed foods, bread, and canned goods, it shouldn't be that hard to avoid added sodium." But what if you truly crave salt? From Eat to Live, here's Dr. Fuhrman's advice:

If you desire to salt your food, do so only after it is on the table and you are ready to eat it. It will taste saltier if the salt is right on the surface of the food. You can add lots of salt yet hardly taste it if the salt is added to the vegetables or soup while they are cooking. VegiZest instant soup mix has a nice salty flavor and can be added to salads or sprinkled on food. Use herbs, spices, lemon, vinegar, or other non-salt seasonings to flavor food. Condiments such as ketchup, mustard soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and relish are very high in sodium, so if you can resist them, use the low sodium varieties sparingly.

Ideally, all your foods should have less than one milligram of sodium per calorie. Natural foods contain about half a milligram of sodium per calorie. If a food has a serving size of 100 calories yet contains 400 mg of sodium, it is a very high salt food. If it has 100 calories and less than 100 mg of sodium, it is a food with hardly any added salt and is an appropriate food for you diet. Try to rarely use products with more than 200 mg per 100 calories. Within these guidelines, you should be able to keep your average daily sodium intake around or below 1,000 mg.

Although for those with strong willpower, eating salt-free can become an even more enjoyable experience:

If you don't use salt, your taste buds adjust with time and your sensitivity to taste salt improves. When you are using lots of salt in your diet, it weakens your taste for salt and makes you fell that food tastes bland unless it is heavily seasoned or spiced. The DASH study observed the same phenomenon that I have noted for years—it took sometime for one's salt-saturated taste buds to get used to a low sodium level. If you follow my nutritional recommendations, without compromise, avoiding all processed foods or highly salted foods, your ability to detect and enjoy the subtle flavors in fruits and vegetables will improve as well.

1. Joosens, J.V., M.J. Hill, P. Elliot, et al. 1996. Dietary salt, nitrate and stomach cancer mortality in 24 countries: European Cancer Prevention (ECP) and the INTERSALT Cooperative Research Group. Int. J. Epidemiol. 3:494-504.

2. Obarzanek, E., F.M. Sacks, T.J. Moore, et al. 2000. Dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH)—sodium trial. Paper presented at Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hypertension, May 17, New York, NY.

3. Itoh, R., and Y. Suyama. 1996. Sodium excretion in relation to calcium and hydroxyproline excretion in a healthy Japanese population. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 63 (5): 735-40.

4. Tuomilehto, J., P. Jousilahti, D. Rastenyte, et al. 2001. Urinary sodium excretion and cardiovascular mortality in Finland: a prospective study. Lancet 357 (9259): 848-51.

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row - June 16, 2006 4:57 PM

when discussing salt use among raw food people, is the use of raw unheated salt and sea vegetables that contain high levels of sea salt just as harmful as regular table salt. often I come across raw fooders that make wonderous health claims about these raw salt products.

jill - August 15, 2006 3:10 PM

"If you don't use salt, your taste buds adjust with time and your sensitivity to taste salt improves."

So - how long does this take?
Though I eat almost no pre-processed food, I cannot eat anything (meat, fish, veggies, potatos, oatmeal (old-fashioned, not the flavor packs) w/o lots of salt and/or hot sauce. Should I just quit cold turkey or slowly cut back? Thanks.

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