Question: Should I worry about my salt intake?

Question and AnswerQuestion and Answer

Salt may not be as big of a risk to your health as you think.

Salt Well

As a physician, I get the question asked all the time. The fact is that there is not a clear answer. Even my father used to tell me salt was bad for me. He was not trying to make my life difficult or miserable. He actually cared and wants to help make me healthier. The problem is that the evidence is not so clear. So, what is the truth?

I absolutely love salt and foods that are high in salt. Most of the red sauces are high in salt and I absolutely crave them. You would think as a physician that I would know better and avoid high salt foods. Heck, I was taught in school that sodium intake is tied to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. The problem is that most of these fears are based on poor research and misconceptions.

Facts about sodium intake:

  1. Sodium leads to water retention. Water follows sodium and the more you eat, the more water you retain.  The fact is that increased sodium intake will make your weight more and your feet swell.
  2. The salt shaker is rarely the problem.  Most of the sodium we consume is from processed food. Pick up the frozen meal and read the label. If you can have 2-3 grams a day and the meal you are eating has 1500 grams, you are gonna bust that budget. Over 90% of the salt comes from the processed food we eat and not the shaker on the table.
  3. Salt can raise your blood pressure if you are sensitive. Not everyone is sensitive to sodium but some will have a precipitous increase in blood pressure when they eat high salt foods. If you are one of these unlucky individuals, you should avoid it.
  4. Salt can make food taste better.  I love to add it to melon because it makes some sweet taste better. Then again, what good are french fries and p[opcorn without a little salt added?
  5. Potassium and magnesium are your friends. Foods high in potassium and magnesium can reduce your book pressure and relax those blood vessels. I would watch them if you have kidney disease, but they can be helpful to counteract the effects of sodium.

The bottom line: Personally, I am not worried about salt, but cutting back can help me lose a little water weight. I recommend you talk to a medical provider about your sodium intake. If they recommend that you reduce your intake, do so, but remember that you will get fat more from processed food and restaurant meals than freshly cooked food topped with a little from a shaker. Get enough potassium and magnesium.

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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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