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With a Grain of Salt: Why You May Not Need to Limit Your Sodium Intake

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Is salt the enemy? Maybe not. If you're a healthy, active woman, you may not have to limit your sodium intake -- despite all the government warnings. Here, surprising facts that will shake up your diet.

There's No Need to Toss Your Saltshaker

Chances are, you feel guilty every time you sprinkle the white stuff on your food these days. And no wonder: Many health groups have declared sodium a public enemy. The Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, says we should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (about one teaspoon) of the mineral daily to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. But some experts question whether that advice is necessary -- or even healthy -- for everyone. "Cutting sodium by about 50 percent lowers blood pressure, which could lead to a reduction in cardiovascular disease," says Michael H. Alderman, MD, professor of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York. "However, no clinical trials have ever been conducted to show that's the case."

In fact, some observational studies have found that a sodium intake of less than 2,300 milligrams a day has no effect on heart disease, and other research reveals that people who consume less salt are actually more likely to have heart attacks or strokes. "The theory that reducing sodium will make us healthier may be true, but it needs to be proved before we make widespread rec­ommendations," Dr. Alderman notes. Until more research is done, he says, there's no evidence that healthy women with normal blood pressure need to limit salt.

If you have risk factors for heart disease, however, talk with your doctor about watching your intake. A recent study found that cutting sodium back by at least 400 milligrams a day -- about one-sixth of a teaspoon of salt (roughly an ounce of pretzels) -- may be beneficial. "Even a small decrease will take some pressure off the arteries and keep them stronger longer," says Lawrence J. Appel, MD, professor of medicine, epidemiology, and international health at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore.

Fact #1: Sodium keeps you healthy.

Despite the bad rap it gets, "sodium is critical to maintaining every cell in the body," Dr. Appel says. "But we don't need very much of it," he adds. The mineral helps control your heart rate, aids digestion, and keeps you hydrated during exer­cise, among other things. Recently an analysis of data from more than 19,000 men and women in 33 countries over more than 20 years found that people consistently consume an average 3,000 to 4,800 milligrams of sodium every 24 hours. "We think this range may be the amount the body requires to be at its healthiest and assure the best blood flow to critical organs, including the brain, heart, and kidneys," says study coauthor David McCarron, MD, an adjunct professor in the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis. For now, however, the Institute of Medicine says adult women need no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day to meet their bodies' needs.

Fact #2: Salt is crucial to your workout.

The sodium in your bloodstream helps keep your muscles functioning optimally when you exercise. You lose the mineral when you sweat, though; the average person may perspire away about 500 milligrams of sodium during an hour-long workout, says Nancy Clark, RD, author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. "Most of us get enough from our meals and snacks so that we don't need to worry about replacing what we lose," she says. "But if you're repeatedly exercising in hot or humid conditions or training for a marathon, you may feel better if you up your intake slightly." To figure out how much to replenish, weigh yourself before and after a sweat session, taking into account the amount of fluid you consumed. So if you're one pound lighter but you drank 16 ounces of water during your workout, you've really lost a total of two pounds. "If you're down two or more pounds, have a handful of pretzels to replace the sodium you've lost," Clark advises.

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Lisa7590 wrote:

People are deceived by how much salt is really healthy.I have not met anyone with a lack of adequate salt intake.Salt is prevalent in almost everything you eat. PUT away that salt shaker for GOOD!! Ask for your food to be prepared in a low sodium fashion or no added salt when we go out to eat. WE actually TASTE the food we are eating and dont leave with a huge belly or worse yet, a desire to take a nap due to the bloat.PUT away the salt shaker and live better, thinner and healthier.

4/14/2012 07:34:30 PM Report Abuse
4petesake1 wrote:

Wrong, wrong, unbleached unprocessed celtic sea salt is far superior! It is the only salt source that will replenish minerals depleted by sweating and drinking too much water without minerals.

2/25/2011 01:13:17 PM Report Abuse
swrightmac wrote:

This article does not include the sodium that is already in foods. It is NOT the shaking of the salt that is the culprit. It is hard to find foods is not high in sodium content, unless it is fresh or homemade. Also, 1tsp of salt has 560 mgs of sodium regardless of reg or sea- sea salt is more potent so you should use less. In America, the average person can consume about 3000 to 5000 mg of sodium in one meal take that times three a day plus drinks and snacks- now that is the problem

2/22/2011 01:55:00 PM Report Abuse
shermanre451 wrote:

Moderation in all things--the rest takes care of itself, as long as you are basically healthy.

2/22/2011 01:43:57 AM Report Abuse
FirefighterBob wrote:

Sea salt became popular and a fad purely from the taste and texture. They MARKET it as healthy only because it has 64mcg per 1/4 table spoon to the 75mcg of iodine in Table salt. As the saying goes "everything in moderation." Table salt? Sea salt? Doesn't matter much as long as you dont go buck wild with it.

2/21/2011 04:08:50 PM Report Abuse

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