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Helene Pavlov, M.D.

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Please (DON'T) Pass The Salt

Posted: 02/09/10 11:50 AM ET

Last summer I offered up my opinion on the problem with obesity in our society and a parent's role in promoting healthy eating habits for their children. Continuing in this theme, the media is re-emphasizing the importance about one of the ingredients that is in just about every food known to man. SALT.

Because my dad had high blood pressure, as a child I never saw a salt shaker. My mom never added salt to anything she cooked. In addition, she never used any spices, either. That said, whenever I eat out with my family or friends everything tastes salty, too salty. I developed a taste for unsalted food. Often I see people reach for the salt shaker in order to douse their food with salt before they even taste it. It makes me cringe. Most chefs in restaurants spend a lot of time and energy on how certain foods are spiced, including the amount of salt that they put into a dish. Unfortunately, most chefs hide the great taste of food with the salt and spices. Most Americans, who eat far too much salty food to begin with, have been trained, albeit without their knowledge, to LOVE the salty flavor in food.

While food labels do their best to tell us what we are ingesting, oftentimes they don't mention salt but refer to sodium instead - the main component of salt; 1g of sodium is the same as 2.55g of salt. In other words, whenever a label gives a figure for sodium you need to multiply it by roughly 2.5 to work out the amount of salt the food contains.

Let's get right down to it... there are long-term risks associated with high levels of salt intake including stroke and cardiovascular disease, which many of us know. As a simple rule of thumb, it is best to consume only 2.4g of sodium a day (the equivalent of 6g of salt). Have you ever checked out the label on a can of soup for the amount of sodium? You will be shocked. You have to search very hard for no salt soups and canned vegetables because even the low salt or low sodium processed food are loaded with salt.

I liken excessive use of salt to something akin to smoking or excessive drinking. Many people know that certain things are bad for their health yet continue to overindulge. With the talk of healthcare reform on everyone's mind, shouldn't we all be doing everything we can to improve our health, take care of our bodies and participate in reducing the cost of healthcare? If not for ourselves, then for our children, teach them to appreciate the taste of good food, not the taste of salt.

HSS