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Salt

The effects of high sodium are insidious

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

By now, most of us have been hit over the head with the fact that too much salt in our diets is unhealthy. Still, we respond with “I don’t use salt,” “I use very little,” or “I don’t have high blood pressure, so I don’t have to worry.” Unfortunately, these are myths. All of us should be concerned about salt or, more specifically, our sodium intake.

Excessive sodium in the diet does increase the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension); the consequences are stroke or heart disease. Approximately 90 percent of Americans consume too much sodium (1).

Now comes the interesting part. Sodium has a nefarious effect on the kidneys. In the Nurses Health Study, approximately 3,200 women were evaluated in terms of kidney function, looking at the estimated glomerular filtration rate (GFR) as related to sodium intake (2). Over 14 years, those with a sodium intake of 2,300 mg had a much greater chance of an at least 30 percent reduction in kidney function, compared to those who consumed 1,700 mg per day.

Why is this study important? Kidneys are one of our main systems for removing toxins and waste. The kidneys are where many initial high blood pressure medications work, including ACE inhibitors, such as lisinopril; ARBs, such as Diovan or Cozaar; and diuretics (water pills). If the kidney loses function, it may be harder to treat high blood pressure. Worse, it could lead to chronic kidney disease and dialysis. Once someone has reached dialysis, most blood pressure medications are not very effective.

Ironically, the current recommended maximum sodium intake is 2,300 mg per day, or one teaspoon, the same level that led to negative effects in the study. However, Americans’ mean intake is twice that level.

Excessive sodium in one’s diet can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to a stroke or heart disease. Stock photo

If we reduced our consumption by even a modest 20 percent, we could reduce the incidence of heart disease dramatically. Current recommendations from the American Heart Association indicate an upper limit of 2,300 mg per day, with an “ideal” limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day (3).

If the salt shaker is not the problem, what is? Most of our sodium comes from processed foods, packaged foods and restaurants. There is nothing wrong with eating out on occasion, but you can’t control how much salt goes into your food. My wife is a great barometer of restaurant salt use. If food from the night before was salty, she complains of not being able to get her rings off.

Do you want to lose 5 to 10 pounds quickly? Decreasing your salt intake will allow you to achieve this goal. Excess sodium causes the body to retain fluids. 

One approach is to choose products that have 200 mg or fewer per serving indicated on the label. Foods labeled “low sodium” have fewer than 140 mg of sodium, but foods labeled “reduced sodium” have 25 percent less than the full-sodium version, which doesn’t necessarily mean much. Soy sauce has 1,000 mg of sodium per tablespoon, but low-sodium soy sauce still has about 600 mg per tablespoon. Salad dressings and other condiments, where serving sizes are small, add up very quickly. Mustard has 120 mg per teaspoon. Most of us use far more than one teaspoon of mustard. Caveat emptor: Make sure to read labels on all packaged foods very carefully.

Is sea salt better than table salt? High amounts of salt are harmful, and the type is not as important. The only difference between them is slight taste and texture variation. I recommend not buying either. In addition to the health issues, salt tends to dampen your taste buds, masking the flavors of food.

If you are working to decrease your sodium intake, become an avid label reader. Sodium hides in all kinds of foods that don’t necessarily taste salty, such as breads, soups, cheeses and salad dressings. I also recommend getting all sauces on the side, so you can control how much — if any — you choose to use.

As you reduce your sodium intake, you might be surprised at how quickly your taste buds adjust. In just a few weeks, foods you previously thought didn’t taste salty will seem overwhelmingly salty, and you will notice new flavors in unsalted foods.

If you have a salt shaker and don’t know what to do with all the excess salt, don’t despair. There are several uses for salt that are actually beneficial. According to the Mayo Clinic, gargling with ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water significantly reduces symptoms of a sore throat from infectious disease, such as mononucleosis, strep throat and the common cold. Having had mono, I can attest that this works.

Remember, if you want to season your food at a meal, you are much better off asking for the pepper than the salt.

References:

(1) cdc.gov. (2) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010;5:836-843. (3) heart.org.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Supervisor Frank Petrone speaks on the highway department's preparation for the winter season on Dec. 11. Photo by A.J. Carter.

Winter is coming — and the Huntington Highway Department is ready for it.

In an effort to make the season as seamless as possible, the department has bulked up its winter arsenal with additional dump trucks, refurbished old ones and updated and digitized response services to make the town more accessible to residents.

Highway Superintendent Pete Gunther said the operations center was recently enacted within the highway department to make the town more productive when responding to residents’ requests for assistance services such as plowing. He said residents could simply email the operations center through the town’s website if they require help, where foreman will be notified via iPads to keep them up-to-date on service requests.

“We’ve become really automated now,” Gunther said at a press conference on Friday. “Anything that comes into the operation center can be immediately routed to the area foreman — whether it’s snow or a storm — and take care of whatever the problem is.”

Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said that the department’s efforts are a true example of what Huntington can do when there is cooperation, especially with what he called a “most effective” highway superintendent, who Petrone said has done wonders at his job.

“The people have been served very well by Pete Gunther,” he said at the press conference.

Gunther said the town has acquired 10 new dump trucks this year, equipped with plows and sanders that should last between 25 and 30 years. The town also refurbished 10 older dump trucks with updates like stainless steel bodies to remedy damage from salt exposure.

New dump trucks from the Huntington Highway Department with plows on display at a press conference on Dec. 11. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.
New dump trucks from the Huntington Highway Department with plows on display at a press conference on Dec. 11. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

The Huntington Town Board allocated $260,000 for the stainless steel repairs, according to Gunther, and the project was completed $18,000 under budget, adding 12 to 15 years of service to the trucks.

“He’ll be in his eighth term by the time he has to do this again,” Petrone joked. Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) said Gunther and his team planned on bringing the town forward in terms of technology.

“To be this prepared this early without the snow is a testament to your leadership,” Edwards said to Gunther.

As for technology upgrades, the department gained 200 portable GPS devices to give to private contractors who help the department during emergencies, allowing the department to reposition equipment in real-time.

Petrone said the town has also mobilized town workers so that they are available if needed for larger highway department projects.

Gunther also urged residents to not park their cars on the street during a storm, as well as leaving basketball hoops set up in the street, to help make plowing as quick and effective as possible.

Thanks to the improvements and upgrades, Guther said, “We are a more efficient and better highway department.”

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