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The Truth About Salt

  • July 22, 2011
  • 6:01 pm
  • 1 of 5
The Truth About Salt
Insidious health threat, or innocent flavor enhancer? Take a closer look at the planet’s tastiest mineral

By Maria Masters, Men’s Health

America has declared war on salt. The nutrition militia, claiming that the enemy is attacking you and your buddies, points to hypertension stats: More than 20 percent of American men between 35 and 44 have high blood pressure. Even the Institute of Medicine is leaning on the government to set standards for sodium content in foods; and the American Heart Association, along with the City of New York and 30 other cities, is promoting a new National Salt Reduction Initiative.

So should you enlist? It’s a tough battle. “If people want to avoid salt, they really can’t—not unless they skip processed, prepared, and restaurant foods,” says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H., a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

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What’s more, salt may not even be the true enemy. Before you sign up to fight, tune out the hysteria and plunge into the latest nutrition intel.

Can I live without salt?

Nope

Salt is essential to health. Your body can’t make it, and your cells need it to function, says Aryan Aiyer, M.D., director of the heart center at Magee-Womens Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh medical center. In fact, the Institute of Medicine recommends consuming at least 3.8 grams of salt a day (just over 1/2 teaspoon), mainly for the sodium.

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Sodium is an electrolyte, a humble member of that hyped class of minerals that help maintain muscle function and hydration; that’s why sport drinks contain sodium. You’re constantly losing sodium through sweat and urine, and if you don’t replenish that sodium and water, your blood pressure may drop far enough to make you dizzy and light-headed. “Sodium acts like a sponge to help hold fluids in your blood,” says Rikki Keen, R.D., an adjunct instructor of dietetics and nutrition at the University of Alaska.

However, people who chug too much water can lower their sodium levels so far that they develop hyponatremia, a potentially deadly condition more common among recreational exercisers than professional athletes, says Marie Spano, R.D., a sports nutritionist in Atlanta. Salt does more than just make our food taste good; without it, we’d die.

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Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Food, General Health, High Blood Pressure, Men's Health, , , , , , , , ,

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Rodale

Rodale.com is a new original source for daily news, information, and advice on personal and environmental health. Rodale.com focuses on “Where Health Meets Green” topics, providing daily news stories and breaking news along with easy-to-follow, high-impact tips and advice.

284 comments

+ add your own
7:09AM PDT on May 29, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

7:35AM PDT on Jul 29, 2012

I believe I'll listen to the American Heart Association, thank you very much.

3:27AM PDT on Jun 20, 2012

Thank you

5:31PM PDT on Jun 15, 2012

Thanx, for the wonderful article

7:05PM PST on Nov 27, 2011

Moderation.

6:06PM PST on Nov 11, 2011

thanks

7:32PM PDT on Aug 20, 2011

Thank you for posting.

4:08PM PDT on Aug 13, 2011

Good info. Thanks.

7:49PM PDT on Aug 11, 2011

Great article, thanks!

4:21PM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

Noted with interest. I need salt, because I have low pressure.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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