Oct 16, 2009 / by corematters / No Comments

Well, in a word, YES.

We only need about 500mg (a 1/4 teaspoon) a day to keep our fluids balanced, and our muscles twitching properly.  The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 2300 mg per day–that’s about a teaspoonful.

Anyone surprised?

Many health experts consider high dietary sodium levels to be one of the nation’s top health threats.  Dr. Stephen Havas, Adjunct Professor of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says that reducing the sodium content of packaged and restaurant foods by half would save at least 150,000 lives per year.

How?  Well, according to the American Heart Association, at least 70% of the sodium in the average American diet is coming from the food itself, not from a salt shaker. When American meals are prepared in food factories instead of family kitchens, salt is used in liberal and sometimes dangerous proportions.  In a report released in March, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that more than 130 million Americans are consuming too much salt and putting themselves at risk for serious illnesses.

Ever grab a quick meal at Chili’s or Denny’s or Olive Garden or Red Lobster?

Perhaps the “Guiltless Chicken Sandwich” on the menu at Chili’s restaurant?  Although it only has 490 calories and 8 grams of fat, it also has a whopping 2,720 milligrams of salt, which is more than is recommended for an entire day.   So much for guiltless…

Just so you don’t think I’m picking on Chili’s, Red Lobster, Denny’s, and Olive Garden serve food that has four days worth of sodium in a single meal.   And we haven’t even looked at the frozen entrees we find at the supermarket.

“As a physician, I have grave concerns about these sodium levels, and grave concerns about an elderly person or someone with hypertension eating even one such meal,” Havas said. “The body can have a hard time getting rid of that much salt, potentially leading to fluid retention and accumulation in the lungs. Consuming that much sodium can have severe consequences.”

Remember our lesson on label reading?  Well, pull it up and re-read it.  You are going to need to look at sodium content, because even  if you’re not eating out, and not salting your food at the table, you may still be getting way too much salt from the packaged and processed foods in your pantry.  Canned vegetables, boxes of crackers, cereal–if you start looking for it, I guarantee you will be shocked where you find it.

In this country, it’s a major source of flavor–especially on what I call dead food.  Salt is a very sharp, strong flavor, and often it completely masks any other flavors in our food.  So it can be very difficult for people to stop using it.  Foods will seem bland.  You’ll have to be patient.  It takes a week or two for your palate to adjust.  Taste buds that haven’t been needed for years will have to re-acquaint themselves with the subtle flavors of fruits and vegetables and  other spices.  (The same holds true for sugar.  It is a strong, sharp flavor, hence its dominance–and it’s cheap, especially in the form of corn syrup, hence its prevalence.)

So, this is all to say, watch your sodium intake.  Read the labels.  Buy unsalted.  And don’t be surprised if you have trouble at first.   Just try to eat as close to clean (unprocessed) as possible, and give it time.
You’re worth it.