The Assault on Salt


Today I want to talk about something that is definitely related to your health, but not really about bariatric surgery…it's America's addiction to salt, there is a lot to cover so this particular topic is going to be in two parts. By the way most of this information is from a recent issue of "University of California, Berkeley, WELLNESS LETTER"..  If you are interested in a good source of information about nutrition and general health I highly recommend it.

A high sodium diet contributes to high blood pressure (Hypertension) which is a major cause of heart attacks and strokes (Obesity can also contribute to high blood pressure, so if you are obese and eating a high sodium's sort of a double whammy in terms of health risks).  On the other hand lowering salt intake can lower blood pressure and lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.  A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found reducing sodium intake by 1200 milligrams per day (about 1/2 of a teaspoon) could prevent close to 100,000 heart attacks and 60,000 strokes per year!  Americans consume about 3400 milligrams of sodium per day, far more than the currently recommended 1500 to 2300 milligram limit.




First off, the difference between sodium and salt.  Ordinary table salt is composed of sodium and chloride.  One teaspoon of table salt has 2300 milligrams of sodium (it is the sodium, not the chloride that is the cause of health problems).  The recommended limit per day is about 2300 milligrams of sodium which is one teaspoon of table salt. The problem is that sodium is not just in food but it is a major component of food ingredients and preservatives.


Hiding the salt shaker may not help because about three quarters of the salt we consume isn't the salt you add at the table it's added before it gets to the table and about 10% occurs in food naturally.  Restaurant food and processed foods in particular are very high in sodium….there is definitely a price to be paid for that convenience.  Some examples of foods that are very high in sodium are: canned foods, frozen meals, smoked and cured meats, prepared mixes, sauces (particularly tomato sauces), bouillon cubes, vegetable juice (especially V8) and pickled foods.  Even foods you wouldn't think of as "salty" have added sodium, cottage cheese (400 milligrams per half a cup) and even bread has added sodium (go ahead read the label,  you'll see!)    


For example one slice of bread can have 125 to 250 milligrams of sodium so a sandwich can have 500 milligrams before you even put anything on the bread!!

Rinsing canned foods can help.  A half cup of canned beans has 350 to 400 milligrams of sodium and this can be reduced by a third if you drain and rinse the beans first.  Better yet prepare dried beans which have almost no sodium. You can also drain and rinse canned tuna and canned vegetables which will reduce (but not eliminate) some of the sodium from these foods.


As I frequently discuss with patients reading labels is key (knowledge is power).  The nutrition label lists the amount of sodium and also the "percent Daily Value".  The percent daily value will tell  you how much sodium one serving of the food contributes to the total daily limit.  As always check the serving size because the amount of food you are eating may, in fact, be two or three serving sizes.  This is a trick food companies frequently use.  When you read the label the calories, sugar and sodium don't seem bad, until you realize what they consider "a serving" is way too small and what an actual person will eat is 2 or 3 times more.


So, in terms of reading the food labels some specific terms to look for are:  "unsalted", "no salt added" or "Low sodium".  A "Low sodium" food has less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving, "Very low sodium" has less than 35 milligrams and "sodium free" has less than 5 milligrams.   One thing to be aware of is "reduced sodium" foods, this means the food has 25% less sodium than the original but it still maybe high in sodium.  Reduced sodium V8 for example is better than the regular V8 bit it still has a fair amount of salt.


What about Kosher salt and sea salt..are they any better?  Sorry not terms of the sodium content they are not really any different


Next week we'll talk about how to spice food without salt, sodium content of some over the counter medications and a list of some foods with their respective sodium content.




Support Group will meet this Wednesday February 16th  Our guest speakers will be Dr. Debra Gill and Dr. Gary Goldberg, Licensed Psychologists, who will discussing issues associated with long-term weight management and how to stay strong emotionally throughout the year.  Hope you can join this lively discussion and learn something at the same time.


In March, we will be combining all the support groups and meet on March 9th.  Our guest speaker will be Dr. Lalla, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon,   who will be presenting Plastic Surgery Options and Body Contouring after Weight Loss Surgery.


All support groups will take place at the Saint Barnabas Ambulatory Care Center from 6:00 – 7:30.  The address is 200 South Orange Avenue, Livingston.  Any questions please call 973-322-7433.


Hope everyone has a great Valentine's Day and gets to spend it with someone special.

Michael Bilof





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