“Where would we be without salt?,” asked celebrated food writer James Beard. A cardiologist’s answer to that is likely to be a wry ,”in a healthier place.”
Is salt actually good for you, but just a victim of bad press? Can too much salt give you a heart attack? Is it possible to keep your taste buds happy on a low-salt diet?
I asked esteemed New Delhi-based cardiologist Dr. K.K.Aggarwal to sort out the healthy, the harmful, and the hype. Let me reproduce my interview with him for you:
Is salt bad for my heart?
Short answer: yes.
Salt increases blood pressure.
Salt contains sodium, which causes the body to retain water. When the level of body fluids goes up, blood pressure increases. Increased blood pressure puts a strain on the heart.
Scary. Anything else?
Plenty. That innocent-looking white powder can cause kidney troubles, too.
More with Dr. K.K.Aggarwal on the next page!
What’s the connection?
The kidneys maintain normal levels of sodium in your body. If there is too much sodium, the kidneys excrete it. Conversely, when the body needs sodium, the kidneys maintain it, and then pump it back into the blood. But when you eat extra salt, the kidneys fail to excrete enough sodium, which holds water, raising the volume of blood. When a lot of blood passes through the arteries and veins, it exerts pressure on their walls.
Anti blood pressure drugs also have kidney protective actions. They reduce the excretion of proteins in the urine. Eating too much salt may impair this beneficial effect of some drugs, like calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors on kidney.
Too much salt intake can also increase the excretion of calcium in the urine. It is also linked to insulin resistance where the internally produced insulin may fail to work effectively, causing high blood sugar levels.
Aargh! So, What’s a salt-lover to do?
- Alternate the varieties of salt you use in your cooking: rock salt, kosher salt and regular salt. Each one has different minerals and properties. Plus: your food gets a jump-start on taste.
- Use lemon juice instead of salt in your salads. It works wonders for the flavour, too.
- Use half the amount of salt a recipe calls for, then add tiny pinches till the dish is just salty enough, but still low on sodium. Of course it qill take some time for you get used to lower salt in your food, but the patience and the effort are totally worth it.
- Processed foods = High sodium. Just ditch them. Even butter is now available minus the salt!
- Just one serving of fries and burgers can overshoot your entire day’s allowance of sodium. Indulge with caution.
Check out the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Low Sodium Meals. It’s a yummy resource that offers more than 250 low-salt recipes and amazingly easy ideas for exploring other herbs and spices.