Harlem Word: Maudene Nelson tells us who needs to watch how much salt they eat and how to cut down on it

Editor March 31st

In this article, Northern Manhattan Community Nutrition educator Maudene Nelson, RD, CDE tells us why some people should eat less salt and some ways to eat less salt while keeping flavor. Maudene Nelson is a Registered Dietitian, New York State Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist, and a Certified Diabetes Educator at the Columbia University Medical Center for the Institute of Human Nutrition.

Q: In general, who needs to watch their salt intake?
A: “Watch” their salt intake means keeping to the amount of sodium in a day’s meals and snacks to 1,500 mg or less. Let’s say we were in a room with people watching their salt intake. Who would be there?  Most will be people concerned about their blood pressure. That group is fairly diverse. If you think it’s just a grandma with a cane, keep reading.

  • No matter what your age, if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it is important to bring your daily sodium level down.
  • For anyone over 50 years of age it seems that reducing sodium may help prevent blood pressure from creeping up.
  • Anyone who has a kidney condition will help protect the kidney with less salt on the plate.
  • Because of the high amount risk for elevated blood pressure, stroke, and related conditions Black people (African Americans) are advised to have a low salt style of eating.
  • In addition, anyone with diabetes will have a better chance of preventing blood pressure problems in the future.

It’s best to work with a Registered Dietitian or New York State Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist to help with making substitutions and innovating on your favorite foods.,

By the way, “Watch your salt!” is advice that is sometimes not safe. It may not be necessary or safe to limit salt if you’re pregnant. And taking extra salt if you are an athlete in training or have low blood pressure could be the wrong move. Instead of taking extra salt or limiting salt, it’s best to consult your health care provider with any of your salty questions about hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

Q: Why do people in these groups need to be careful with salt?
A: Here are reasons why these groups should watch how much salt they eat:

  1. People older than 51 years of age: Blood pressure goes up naturally, as we age. If you are over the age of 51, you should watch your salt intake. It could easily cause your blood pressure to go too high.
  2. African-Americans of all ages: African-Americans are four times more likely to develop kidney disease than other Americans are. Too much sodium raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure can damage the kidneys.
  3. People with hypertension, diabetes, or kidney disease should watch their salt so that their health condition does not get worse.

These groups of people should be eating 1,500 mg of sodium per day or less than what is in one teaspoon of table salt. That’s not much at all! I am not sure how realistic that is, but based on large studies, you might be able to avoid a stroke [healthopedia], if you lower how much salt you eat. Lowering the amount of sodium that you eat can also cut back on damage to the kidneys. Remember, sodium is found in table salt.

Q: How does salt affect blood pressure?

A: Some people are “salt sensitive.” Salt-sensitive people are those who may experience a jump in blood pressure when they eat salt. How salt raises blood pressure is not completely understood. One possible way is that when lots of salt is picked up by the kidney it also holds onto water. That extra water may increase the volume of circulating blood and raise blood pressure.  Other proposed mechanisms for the effect of salt on raising blood pressure is that it affects the way hormones control the blood vessels of the circulatory system. Whatever the exact reason, there is strong proof saying that less salt is the way to go for most of us.

Hormones in the body determine how much sodium from food is taken up by the kidneys. When the level of sodium is low, the kidneys hold on to sodium. When the level of sodium is high, they get rid of sodium in the urine. These hormones are influenced by the amount of salt in a meal or even the salt eaten within only 24 hours in “salt-sensitive” people. High sodium in the blood causes extra water in the blood stream and raises blood pressure. This makes your heart work harder to pump blood to the body.

Q: How can we cut some salt out of our diets??
A: Cutting out salt is tricky, because so many of us have gotten used to a lot of salt in our food. If you cut your salt in half, you may think that your food doesn’t have enough salt. You are not a good judge of the amount of salt anymore. Your individual way of telling how much salt is in food is off because you are used to such a high amount of it. The U.S. and other nations, have decided to work with the food industry and set goals to lower the amount of salt in their all processed foods. The salt level will not be cut dramatically all at once. If you take away salt too quickly, we will taste the difference in our food and the food industry does not want unsatisfied customers. Instead, the plan is to reduce the level of sodium (found in salt) slowly take out some this year, and a bit more each following year until we reach our goal. By doing this, your taste buds will get used to a lower salt level, little by little.

Q: What are other ways to cut down on salt?
A:

  • When seasoning your foods, get adventurous with parsley, lemon zest, vinegar, garlic, onion, sage, oregano, cloves, basil, cinnamon – yes! Mix them up and the need for salt will diminish.
  • When buying snacks look for “unsalted” – such as nuts & popcorn. Pickles, salsas, spiced meats, and olives are salt rich (high in salt). Simply mix them up with fresh vegetables (baby carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes and pepper slices) and you will have less sodium over all.
  • When buying convenience foods, look for less than 100 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Salt substitutes are sometimes disappointing. Potassium chloride is the most common ingredient. People with high blood pressure who still want to enjoy the taste of their food without sodium affecting their health, should definitely let their doctor know if they plan to try potassium chloride. The doctor knows the big picture. Some medications may prohibit the use of extra potassium.
  • Sea salt has just as much sodium as regular salt. There are claims that you may use less sea salt for the equivalent taste of regular salt. However, it won’t be enough of a drop in intake if you are watching your salt for health reasons.

Related article: Potassium chloride
Click here for Tips on Cooking Without Salt
Click here for an easy Spicy Roast Chicken recipe using lemon and spices.
 

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