Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cut Down on Salt to Protect Your Health

Do you, like most people, have a love-hate relationship with salt? Maybe you love how it adds flavour to your food, but you hate the fact that you're not supposed to be using too much, and that it's actually hidden in nearly everything you eat! So why should you even care about how much salt you eat? Because salt consumption is the most major risk factor for high blood pressure (hypertension), and because one in five Canadians has hypertension. Hypertension is lovingly referred to as the "silent killer" because it often has no symptoms or warning signs, but it increases your risk of stroke, heart disease, heart and kidney failure and death.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, one of the major modifiable risk factors (meaning that it's within our means to change or intervene to reduce risk) for hypertension is diet. In fact, it is estimated that nearly 30% of cases of hypertension can directly be attributed to excessive sodium intake alone! Studies have shown that even a small decrease in blood pressure can significantly reduce the risk and burden of diseases and illnesses related to blood pressure (kidney failure, heart failure, heart disease and diabetes).

It's recommended that we consume less than 2,000mg of sodium per day, but even that's a bit high. Ideally, 1,200-1,500 mg sodium per day is where you want to be at, but starting with 2000 or less is excellent and will reduce your risk anyhow. Baby steps, folks!

The most effective way to reduce your risk for hypertension (high blood pressure) is to consume less commercially prepared foods, choose foods with low sodium content and ask for less salt to be added to the food in restaurants. Low sodium diets are most effective when they are combined with other health eating diets such as the DASH. Following a healthy diet that is low in sodium and fat, higher in potassium, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins can sometimes make as big of an impact as medication , especially in people who are already hypertensive.

The problem is that most people are less responsive to public health initiatives and warnings because the information that is provided is not being tailored specifically to them, it is 'general' for everyone, for example, Canada’s food guide or the DASH diet. People have different levels of risk and may not be sure of how the information pertains to them; it may not even apply or it does and they don’t realize it, but the bottom line is that everyone can benefit from lowering their salt intakes! Start slowly and soon you'll wonder why you ever sprinkled that salt on your food in the first place!