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To Salt Or Not To Salt: That Is The Question, but What Is The Answer?

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Americans love salt. It’s in the news, it’s in our food, and it’s a part of our culture. It’s estimated that the average American consumes more than 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day.

The Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily allowance is 2,400 milligrams, or about one teaspoon. Recently, salt has been in the news as experts debate its role in high blood pressure.

Researchers have studied the causes of high blood pressure extensively over the past three decades. Scientific studies have confirmed and denied a connection between salt intake and high blood pressure, leaving many to wonder: should I reduce sodium in my diet?

• One of the most recognized salt studies to date is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) study, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The goal of the study was to define the relationship between diet, sodium intake and high blood pressure. The DASH study participants followed either a typical American diet or the DASH diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, as well as low in red meat and sweets.

Experts viewed the study results, published in 2002, in different ways. Dr. David McCarron, professor of medicine at the Oregon Health Sciences University, said changes in diet appeared to have had a greater impact on blood pressure compared to restricting sodium intake alone. In fact, a low-fat diet lowers blood pressure more significantly than simply cutting back on salt.

Since a low-fat diet has other benefits, including disease prevention, Dr. McCarron suggests it makes more sense to encourage people to change to a healthier diet. By embracing a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods, overall health can be improved.

• The DASH study also noted that the bulk of sodium in most diets comes from processed foods, where it is used as a flavor enhancer, preservative and stabilizer. For those looking to reduce sodium in their diet, one of the most effective methods is simply changing your food-shopping habits. Some tips include:

• Read the label. Sodium levels in convenience foods vary widely. A half-cup of one brand of spaghetti sauce has 820 milligrams of sodium while another has only 390 milligrams.

• Wash it away. Many canned vegetables are packed in a salt and water solution. By simply rinsing any canned vegetable with tap water before cooking, you can remove as much as 40 percent of the sodium.

• Purchase no-salt-added products. This gives you control over the salt in your food. You can always salt to suit your taste. While sodium consumption is not a health issue for everyone, an appropriate amount of salt is important for maintaining a healthy diet.

Experts suggest a healthy diet should include 2,000 to 3,000 milligrams of salt per day. If your physician has put you on a no-sodium diet, it is important to follow those orders directly. For those who would like to reduce their sodium intake without compromising food flavor or salting habits, there are alternatives, such as Diamond Crystal Salt Sense.

“Whereas many salt substitutes use formulas that often lack quality taste, Salt Sense is 100 percent real salt that offers 33 percent less sodium by volume,” says Ramona Bennett, marketing manager for Diamond Crystal.

“This is the one salt alternative that allows you to add the same amount of salt to your food -- like corn on the cob -- that you normally would and still reduce your sodium intake.” A brochure with some helpful tips for reducing sodium in your diet and tips for following the DASH diet is available free of charge.

You can receive a copy of “The Shake Down on Salt” brochure simply by calling toll-free (888) 385-SALT (7258).

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