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    Archive for the ‘salt’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Salt Substitutes

    alsosalt_2089_9549707Thank you so much for all the information you share with us on your blog.  I have learned so much over the past few months.

    Last month, after my doctor said my blood pressure was higher than it should be, I followed your advice and kept a record of how much sodium I was eating [on a daily basis].  I definitely need to cut down.

    What do you think of salt substitutes?  One of my nieces mentioned I need to be careful since they can cause kidney problems.  Is that true?

    — Melody (Last name withheld)
    Tucson, AZ

    No, it is not true.

    Let’s start from the beginning, though.

    Most salt substitutes are made from potassium chloride, which taints them with an unpleasant aftertaste.

    I have tried various different brands, and the only one that truly does a good job of replicating the flavor of salt is AlsoSalt.

    Salt replacers can not only help lower sodium intake, but also increase potassium consumption.

    Remember — increasing potassium intake is just as important as lowering sodium consumption to manage — and prevent — hypertension.  Unfortunately, the average American consumers more sodium and less potassium than recommended on a daily basis.

    There are two concerns with salt substitutes, though.

    Anyone diagnosed with kidney or liver disorders (or who is on any sort of medication for those conditions and/or cardiac ones) can NOT consume salt substitutes since the potassium content can have life-threatening consequences.

    While healthy individuals can consume these products safely, I still recommend training the palate to get used to flavors other than salt.  Otherwise, you will simply continue to crave foods high in sodium.

    I would recommend, for example, replacing half of the salt in a recipe with a salt substitute and then using spices to make up for that other fifty percent.

    Spices are a wonderful way to add flavor — as well as health-promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants — to any meal.  Experiment with ground ginger, cumin, curry powder, thyme, rosemary, oregano, paprika, and other delicious varieties.

    To clarify your niece’s concerns — salt substitutes do not cause kidney problems.  As stated above, though, they will certainly worsen any existing renal conditions.

    I have to say, though, that I doubt the salt shaker is the main culprit of your high sodium consumption.

    One of the most effective ways to keep your intake in check is to limit processed foods in your diet and choose whole, minimally processed — or, even better, unprocessed — foods whenever possible.

    Keep in mind, too, that while these salt substitutes are high in potassium, you should try to get as much potassium as possible from whole foods.  That way, you will also get fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and many other nutrients (i.e.: magnesium and calcium) that help maintain blood pressure within healthy ranges.


    You Ask, I Answer: 5 Grams of Salt A Day?

    salt-restaurant-lgOne of my relatives brought home a pamphlet about sodium from his doctor, and it recommends that he stick to five grams of salt a day.

    That seems like an insane amount!  Isn’t the recommendation no more than 2,300 milligrams a day?

    — Lori Camancho
    (Location withheld)

    I actually got a similar question earlier this week while guest-lecturing at New York University!

    One of the problems is that the words “sodium” and “salt” are — erroneously — used interchangeably by many people, including health professionals.

    Remember, salt is composed of sodium and chloride.  More specifically, salt is 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.

    Hence, five grams of salt equal 2,000 milligrams of sodium — perfectly within recommended guidelines.

    I generally dislike recommendations that talk about grams of salt.  Too many consumers are unaware — and not informed — of the difference between salt and sodium, and can end up thinking 5,000 milligrams of sodium a day are a-okay!


    You Ask, I Answer: Himalayan Salt

    Is Himalayan crystal salt worth the extra money?

    Some of the literature claims it is the most nutritious salt in the world since it is all natural and free of preservatives.

    — Lorena Ibarra
    (city withheld), FL

    The literature you are referring to is written by companies that sell Himalayan salt — not the most objective source.

    I have read some of these pamphlets and the claims make absolutely no sense to me.

    Makers of Himalayan salt, for instance, boast that their product contains all 84 chemical elements, lending it a “special harmonic vibration.”

    This is quite an odd statement, since that figure includes heavy metals like mercury and uranium. I certainly don’t want them in my food!

    And, what constitutes a “special” hamonic vibration? Who measures that? With what? How? And, above all, “so what?”

    The most outlandish claim is that Himalayan salt is preservative-free. No salt has added preservatives because salt in itself is a preservative!

    That’s as absurd as saying that honey has no added sugar (sweeteners don’t have added sugar because they already are a form of sugar.)

    Himalayan salt is indeed “all natural.” So are poisonous mushrooms.

    In short — salt is salt is salt.

    In the case of Himalayan salt, you are looking at sodium chloride (aka table salt) and a small amount of naturally-occurring minerals that lend it a pinkish hue and subtly different flavor.

    If you were thinking of purchasing Himalayan salt for health reasons, save your money and buy fresh fruits and vegetables instead.


    You Ask, I Answer: Salt

    What’s the difference between sea salt, kosher salt, and regular table salt?

    Is one lower in sodium?

    — Monica Greenspan
    New York, NY

    From a nutritional standpoint, there is no difference. Grain by grain, they contain the same amount of sodium.

    Table salt and kosher salt are made from mineral deposits, whereas sea salt is simply evaporated seawater.

    The three are processed differently, though, leading to varying textures and crystal sizes.

    One important difference is that table salt has iodine added to it. Iodized salt takes all the credit for drastically reducing cases of goiter in the United States and rest of the world.

    Kosher salt is often loved by cooks due to its large crystals that absorb more moisture (therefore making it ideal for curing meats).

    I personally prefer the taste of sea salt (especially when sprinkled over boiled edamame).

    Remember that the biggest culprit of excess sodium in our diet is processed food (think frozen entrees, canned goods, powdered sauces and flavorings, etc).

    Abstaining from sprinkling salt over food does NOT mean you are on a “low sodium” diet.


    Speaking With…: Marion Nestle

    Considering who my first interviewee is, I could not be more thrilled to introduce the new “Speaking With…” section.

    Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, is a world-renowned nutrition and food guru. If the subject is broached, you are bound to find at least one quote from her (often as the voice of reason).

    Armed with an MPH in public health nutrition and a Ph.D. in molecular biology, Dr. Nestle is able to approach nutrition from a multitude of angles and consider its implications not only on human health, but also the environment and economy.

    Over the past four years, she has released the following books:

    Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Food and Nutrition (2003)
    Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (2003; out on paperback on October 15, 2007)
    Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism (2004)
    What to Eat (2006)

    Earlier this year, she debuted in cyberspace with her own blog, which has been a Small Bites “recommended link” since its inception.

    Dr. Nestle was also featured in Morgan Spurlock’s highly acclaimed documentary SuperSize Me! (she was the one producers turned to when they needed someone to define the word “Calorie”).

    Now, she sits down with Small Bites for an exclusive interview.

    Do you find it frustrating that simple advice like “eat more fruits and vegetables” can be twisted by food companies to sell fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, frozen vegetables smothered in cheese sauce, and apple slices “buddied up” with small containers of caramel or chocolate for dipping?

    Frustrating? No, I think it’s unimaginative.

    These additions are basic marketing strategies. The big profits in the food industry are in “added value,” which is what you do when you add fruit to yogurt and caramel sauce to apple slices.

    Fruits and vegetables are difficult to brand–one head of cauliflower is much like another—so the profit margins are low.

    I like to ask: why do all foods have to be sweet? Foods have so many marvelous flavors and textures. It’s a shame that the only thing food marketers can get anyone to buy is cloyingly sweet (or salty).

    Your career has literally taken you all over the world. Apart from smaller portions, what do you think people in the United States can learn from other societies in terms of how they approach eating and nutrition?

    People in many other countries have such different attitudes about food. For one thing, they don’t think all foods have to be sweet. For another, they eat way smaller portions.

    The marketing of food is so much quieter—you don’t see as much advertising or absurd health claims on food packages. That is changing, of course. I am just back from Australia where I could not believe the amount of Shrek marketing. Supermarkets and McDonald’s outlets were covered with pictures of Shrek—on the junkiest foods imaginable.

    Looking at obesity and smoking as public health issues, why do you think smoking has become something people increasingly look down on, whereas obesity often brings along issues of victimization, helplesness, and boundaries?

    If a person lights up a cigarette at a party, his/her friends will have no qualms telling them it’s gross and unhealthy, but if someone goes out to dinner with friends and orders a double cheeseburger with French fries, it’s considered horribly rude and inappropriate to suggest they consider forgoing the cheese, or replacing the French fries with a baked potato.

    Food isn’t tobacco. The message for tobacco is simple: don’t smoke. The public health goal is also simple: put tobacco companies out of business. I don’t know anyone who wants to put food companies out of business. Food isn’t poison. We have to eat.

    The issues are what to eat and how much. There is so much evidence now that factors in the environment encourage people to eat more food, more often, in larger amounts. It isn’t enough to say that people should just exercise personal responsibility and say no to food.

    We need to change the food environment to make it easier for people to eat more healthfully.

    Do you think part of the health crisis in this country relates to the line between “junk food” and “health food” becoming dangerously blurred? For example, a “healthy” protein bar can deliver 100% of vitamins and minerals as well as 350 calories, 50% of one’s daily saturated fat limit and 20% of the maximum sodium recommendation.

    Meanwhile, sugary cereals made with whole grains have gone mainstream, sushi rolls are drowning i
    n mayonnaise and contain deep fried fish, and flavored waters with as much sugar as a can of soda are marketed as health drinks.

    We are back to marketing again. Remember: the American food supply provides 3,900 calories a day for every man, woman, and child in the country—roughly twice average need. Even people who overeat have limits on what they can take in.

    So the food industry is hugely competitive. Under our investment system, it not only has to make profits; it must grow those profits every 90 days. So the food industry is basically stagnant with one exception: foods perceived as healthy.

    If you can take the trans fat out of your junk food, add vitamins or antioxidants, or add a bit of whole grains, you can market it as “healthy.” Will doing this really help people improve their health? I’m skeptical.

    What is your take on food addiction? Can some people truly be addicted to sugar and flour in the same way they can develop a physiological need for caffeine?

    I don’t like to use the word “addiction” to refer to food. Food gives us life. We can’t live without it.

    The research says that food stimulates the same pleasure centers as addictive drugs but not nearly to the same degree. And careful research on people claiming that they were addicted to chocolate, for example, could not find anything in chocolate to which anyone could be dependent.

    People just love eating chocolate, which doesn’t seem like addiction to me.

    Let’s fast forward a year. Do you think Alli will continue to be a best-seller?

    MN: I don’t have a crystal ball but my guess is that sales will decline when people discover that they don’t lose as much weight with it as they had hoped. Alli just forces people to eat less fat (because the consequences of overeating fat are unpleasant, not to say embarrassing).

    But it’s easy to compensate for those calories with carbohydrates. And when it comes to body weight, it’s calories that count—no matter where they come from.

    I want to once again thank Marion Nestle for granting me this interview, especially considering her busy schedule.

    For the past few months (in between conferences, meetings, lectures, and book tours), she has been conducting exhaustive research for her next book — tentatively titled What Pets Eat — which will tackle the nutrition of our pets, mainly dogs and cats.

    It promises to be revealing, myth-shattering, and another success in Dr. Nestle’s career.


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