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The Times
  • Healthy Eating: Sodium study was misleading

  • A controversial health writer created confusion this year when he claimed new research showed less sodium does not reduce cardiovascular disease, and worse, lowering sodium may even cause more deaths.

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  • In the face of a public health campaign to lower sodium intakes in the United States, a controversial health writer created confusion this year when he claimed new research showed less sodium does not reduce cardiovascular disease, and worse, lowering sodium may even cause more deaths.
    However, when trained researchers scrutinized his studies, they found glaring flaws. Health experts agree: It is still good advice to lower sodium.
    Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack, stroke and heart failure, are the leading causes of death in the United States, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor.
    One in every three Americans is estimated to develop high blood pressure and high sodium intakes are a contributing factor.
    According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the evidence is strong: As sodium intake decreases, so does blood pressure, but most Americans are unaware of this and 90 percent of the population is consuming more than needed.
    Excess dietary sodium promotes fluid retention in the body and constricts and stiffens vessels, which creates higher pressure. The heart works harder to force a higher volume of blood through narrowed blood vessels. Over time this damages the vessels, causes plaque build-up and weakens the heart.
    The American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute all agree: Americans will benefit from lowering sodium in their diets.
    The recommendation is to limit sodium to 1,500 mg daily for more than half of the population – particularly African-Americans, people over the age of 51 and those with high blood pressure.
    For everyone else, the aim is less than 2,300 mg.
    Some exceptions apply. For example, people with certain medical conditions, such as kidney disease, may need even lower amounts and endurance athletes may need higher amounts because of sweat loss.
    Americans consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium daily with most from processed prepared foods, like dehydrated rice and pasta packages, jarred and canned tomato sauce, soups, frozen foods, salad dressings, deli foods, fast foods, restaurant meals and the like.
    There is very little sodium in fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and unprocessed grains. A teaspoon of added salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium.
    To hit the sodium target, try dividing it up in a day; a good aim could be 500 to 600 mg per meal, leaving any extra for snacks. This can make assessing sodium easier.
    For example, three buttermilk pancakes at Denny’s (1,770 mg) or two slices of pizza (1,500 mg) is excessive for one meal.
    One cup of Rice-a-Roni (960 mg) is also over the target; natural brown rice, peas or fresh-baked potatoes are better choices (less than 10 mg). Half a cup of tomato sauce (560 mg) could be substituted with crushed tomatoes in puree (180 mg) or a bag of pretzels (450 mg) traded in for a piece of fresh fruit (less than 1 mg).
    Page 2 of 2 - Limiting sodium is a big part of the puzzle, but also important: Add foods high in potassium, magnesium and calcium, minerals that dilate blood vessels and lower pressure. Choose multiple servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, along with low-fat, calcium-rich foods.

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