02 March 2007

How Much Salt Do You Eat?

Perhaps the question should have been --- "How do you define a great-tasting food?"

Here in the Philippines, if food isn't sweet or salty (not too much on spicy), then that food is called matabang or tasteless. And if a food item is tasteless and lacking in flavor, the average Filipino thinks it is not worth eating. Hence, the one who cooks for him already knows that in order for food to taste "great," salt must be added. If that is not possible, then expect the Filipino to have a handy bottle of salt dispenser in his dining table.

It comes as no surprise then why the latest available data on hypertension prevalence here says that 2 in 10 Filipino adults, 20 years old and over, are hypertensive. On the national level, the prevalence rate of hypertension is 21 percent. Hypertension is the number 5 cause of morbidity, while heart diseases and diseases of the vascular system are the top causes of mortality here.

I am not saying that increased salt intake is the only factor contributing to the incidence and prevalence of hypertension. It is only one of many other factors --- there's heredity, obesity, insulin resistance, alcohol consumption, intake of daily stimulants (coffee, sodas, etc.), too much stress, and many more --- interplaying with each other, and boosting your systolic and diastolic numbers. A few years ago, even too much noise has been implicated.

On the other side of the fence, there's a group of critics who do not believe that there is a salt intake-hypertension link. They believe that only a "salt sensitive" minority of the population benefits by reducing dietary salt. You can read their arguments here and here.

But as a physician who believes in evidence-based medicine, I believe that limiting daily salt intake to recommended dietary levels contributes in achieving a normal blood pressure. You can read my evidence here. Researchers have also shown the same findings in laboratory animal experiments.

For me, the equation is very simple:
reduced salt intake = normal blood pressure = less risk for developing cardiovascular diseases

But what is too much or too little salt? When you buy food in supermarkets, do you still take time to read the nutrional info labels and pay close attention to the sodium content? Do you do your math and compute how much salt you're getting per food serving? Look at the image below:

Unlike other nutrients, it almost takes no effort to see to it that we get salt in our diet. Salt is almost in every food we eat. Canned and processed food have more salt than fresh and frozen counterparts. Junk food is loaded with salt! It's even in bread.

What's wrong with salt? It is not salt per se. It is the sodium in salt that causes elevated blood pressures. Salt is 40 percent sodium. 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2,400 milligrams (2.4 grams) of sodium, and for me, that is all what we need in a day. Most of the time though, we get more.

How low should our salt intake be?

The current public health recommendations is to reduce salt intake from 9 to 12 grams daily to 5 to 6 grams daily. However, a 2003 study says that while this recommendation will have a significant effect on reducing elevated blood pressure, it is not the ideal. The same study recommends a reduction of 3 grams daily to meet the ideal setting. My own recommendation is only 2 grams or less daily, because as I mentioned above, it is so easy to get salt in the diet.

Related Readings:
Shocking Salt Facts

Salt and Health FAQs

World's Salt Producers

Cutting Down on Salt Intake

5 reactions:

BatJay said...

i don't know how much salt we've taken out of our diet but it's a lot. we don't serve patis on the dinner table anymore and jet has dramatically reduced what she puts in her cooking.

i now look at the label before i eat any processed food. junk food - chips, soda, processed meat, etc. these are the ones that will kill you.

my bp now? from hypertensive to an average 100/65, at least that's what my meter says.

Dr. Emer said...

BatJay - but you have something most people don't --- discipline. Discipline to cut down on salt intake and discipline to maintain it. Generally, most people still prefer good taste (in our case, salty) over being healthy. What do they say? "Better to die smiling than with a frown on your face." But what they're missing is that you can be happy and healthy.

Moof said...

Dr. Emer, salt has been an issue for me for a number of years now. I used to eat a lot of salt, and now I'm not allowed any.

Since being placed on a CRF/HTN diet back in 2003, I've found that no matter how good my intentions, I can not eat savory food that doesn't contain salt.

Rather than cheat on my diet, I end up eating fruit, raw vegetables, and sweets ... and a few other things which do not need salt to be palatable. Of course, I also have to watch the potassium, which narrows my choices even further. When I go out to eat, I eat what I'm served - which is often quite salty without adding salt, but those are really the only times I eat savory food anymore.

The salt free diet is one I've personally found to be extremely difficult to follow. I would gladly swap with my diabetic friends, since I'm happy without sweets ... but we don't get to make such choices. ;o)

Dr. Emer said...

Salt is truly the flavor of the planet! I agree with you, Moof. The diabetic diet is much easier. I understand the difficulty of meeting the requirements of a low-sodium diet, but you know what must be done, and it must be done, no matter how great the temptation is. Be strong, my friend! You can do it. ;-)

JMom said...

I shouldn't even comment because I am guilty of all of the above sins :) I am with moof, I can probably cut out sugar sooner than salt. I am hypertensive, and although it is under control with medication and 'some' lifestyle changes, I know I could be doing more :(

shhh!! don't visit my blog in the next few days, I'm getting ready to post binagoongan na porkbelly. haha! baka sapukin ninyo ako.