1. Why you need to watch your sodium intake

    Yes, it's still important to watch your sodium intake

    It's the first piece of advice given to nearly everyone diagnosed with high blood pressure: cut back on your salt. If you're over a certain age, you've almost certainly heard that speech already (and probably more than once).

    Reducing sodium intake helps about 10 percent of people with high blood pressure. It works much better if you reduce your sodium intake while increasing your potassium intake (especially from fruits and vegetables).

    Now, lately, I've seen both mainstream and natural health doctors back away from that advice. I've seen them claim that maybe you don't need to worry so much about your salt intake.

    One new study making headlines, for example, claims the "right" amount of salt is somewhere 2,645 mg and 4,945 mg of salt a day -- which is where most people fall these days anyway (even though it's well above the established guidelines).

    This study from the Cochrane Collaboration says falling below that level -- getting the lower levels recommend by guidelines -- can actually increase your risk of health problems.

    But here's the flaw: Most people switch to a low-salt diet only after it's too late -- only when they've suffered a heart attack or heart failure and are under strict doctor's orders to make changes.

    In other words, people on a low-salt diet are often unhealthy from the get-go, so of course they have a higher risk of health problems. If they had made the switch sooner (and other healthy lifestyle changes), they almost certainly could have avoided those problems.

    Other studies show that salt really does have a major effect on your health. A recent eight-year British study found that reduced salt intake is likely to have contributed to a significant reduction in blood pressure as well as ischemic heart disease (IHD) and stroke mortality.

    So my advice is to stick to the tried-and-true, because decades of research shows that limiting your sodium intake will improve your health, especially your heart health.

    Choose "low salt" foods in the supermarket and carefully read package labels. Better yet, reduce your intake of processed foods since most of them are loaded with salt (and of course are unhealthy in so many other ways).

    Instead, eat freshly prepared foods made from scratch and add a little salt to taste.

    You'll use less salt, and your food will taste better, too.

  2. Chain restaurants use too much salt

    Restaurant food isn't worth its salt

    It's tough enough to eat healthy foods at home. But out in a restaurant, it's almost impossible -- because even seemingly healthy dishes are often loaded with a not-so-secret ingredient: too much salt.

    Chain restaurants have been very loud about their supposed attempts to make their meals healthier, including the use of less salt. But a new study finds there's not much action to back up all that noise.

    In fact, sodium levels have actually risen by an average of 2.4 percent over six years, according to a look at menu items from 78 chain restaurants. And in six of the menu items examined, sodium levels shot up by 30 percent or more.

    Processed foods sold in supermarkets did a little better -- but still have too much salt. Sodium levels in 402 common packaged food items fell by an average of just 3.5 percent, according to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine.

    When you consider that processed foods often contain double or triple the recommended limits for salt, 3.5 percent is a very small drop in a very large bucket.

    On the other hand, processed foods and chain restaurant meals are unhealthy even when they don't contain too much salt, so it's best to steer clear even when the sodium levels are truly low.

    And that brings me to a question my patients often ask me: Just how much salt should we get anyway?

    Recent headlines would lead you to believe it doesn't matter. I'm sure you've seen them, they all looked a little like this: "Cutting back on salt offers no health benefits."

    Those headlines come from a recent recommendation from the Institute of Medicine -- but the agency didn't say there's no benefit to cutting back. In fact, they said there's plenty of evidence that the current recommended limit, 2,300 mg a day, is just about right.

    Some people want to cut it further, to 1,500 mg a day for most, but the agency said there's no benefit to going that low -- and that's what led to those headlines.

    Leave it to the mainstream media to get the story wrong (as usual).

    The best way to get just the right amount is to avoid packaged foods and fast food that contain too much salt and prepare your own meals from fresh ingredients. Cook with spices, but don't add salt until you're ready to eat.

    You'll eat better, tastier, healthier meals -- and you'll get just the right amount of sodium.

  3. Too much salt in your diet

    Many people get double the limit of sodium or more -- in part because excess salt is hidden in many common foods.
  4. Two easy tricks that can lower your BP

    When it comes to blood pressure, it seems like the mainstream has just two answers: a low-salt diet and meds. And both of them are bad ideas.
  5. The sweet spot for salt

    Sodium has been a necessary part of the diet since time began -- but based on how little the mainstream knows about it, you'd think it was discovered just last week.
  6. Low salt comes with high risk

    Next time your doctor says "cut back on the salt, or else" ask him one question. Or else what?
  7. Salt isn't the problem after all

    Salt has been called every name in the book and labeled Public Health Enemy Number One for its supposed role in heart disease and an early death.

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