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What I learned about salt

Dear DrRich:

I’ve been studying up on sodium.  Here’s what I learned.

While it's true that even 1/4 of a tsp. of common table salt has a huge amout of sodium, when I read the nutritional labels of virtually all processed foods, they are LOADED with sodium, including foods that might surprise you -- e.g., breakfast cereal (including the whole wheat variety so highly touted) and ketchup. Other foods that you might guess would be high in sodium (e.g., mustard) are surprisingly not that high.

In other words, "common sense" will fail you here

I also come armed with a large paperback book which lists the sodium content of both fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, grains, and fresh meats, as well as popular nationally franchised fast-food items, etc.

What I've learned from all of this is that, in order to stick to the maximum recommended daily allowance of 2,000 mg. of sodium, one would virtually have to limit one's food to fresh fruit and vegetables, freshly-cut-by-the-butcher meat with no seasonings or additives (and no meat packaged by a manufacturer), and a very moderate amount of grains.

In sum, I have concluded that, unless one is willing to eat in a very strange way, 2,000 mg. for a daily sodium allowance is simply not possible.

Also, is my understanding (detailed below) of the past, and now present, medical view of sodium restriction for hypertensive/cardiac patients correctAt first, hypertensive patients were told to severely restrict sodium intake. Later, it was suggested that non-hypertensive patients at least moderate their sodium intake.

Then, it was stated that only hypertensive patients who were "salt-sensitive" (a relatively small minority of hypertensive patients) should be cautious about their sodium intake.

Finally, the latest now seems to be that moderation for all persons rules. but that we no longer need to fixate on sodium intakeOh, and there was also some talk for awhile about chloride perhaps being the culprit, instead of sodium.

Ain't science wonderful!



DrRich replies:

Dear BI,

Strange as it may seem, you have it pretty much right.

See, this is how medical science works.  The pattern repeats itself over and over:

a)      someone (party 1) discovers a previously unknown phenomenon (e.g., there is a relationship between sodium intake and hypertension)

b)      papers are published, reputations get made, scientific societies erupt, much ado

c)      someone (party 2) takes a second look, and says “never mind”

d)      debates and castigations rage in the academic community

e)      someone else (party 3) finally takes a look at ALL the information and synthesizes a more reasonable conclusion (salt is important for some people, but most folks don’t have to think about it that much)

Yes, science is wonderful - and it keeps academic physicians off the street.




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