Hold the salt shaker and save your life. Too much sodium in your diet increases risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and more.
Without a doubt, Americans eat too much salt. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), we consume, on average, more than twice the 1,500 milligrams recommended for most adults.
Sodium, in proper amounts, is a nutrient that we all need. It helps regulate blood pressure and volume. It also helps nerves and muscles to function properly. Sodium occurs naturally in many foods, but our bodies actually need very little to function properly.
More than three-quarters of the salt in the American diet comes from processed foods. Salt is added to these manufactured foods because it is both a flavor enhancer and a preservative. The AHA believes the amount of salt added to processed foods exceeds safety requirements and impairs the function of the food supply.
The good news is that lowering the amount of sodium in the diet also lowers the risk of disease. There are some basic steps to take to make that happen: (1) Consume fewer processed foods. (2) Read nutrition labels for sodium and preservative content. (3) Eat fewer restaurant meals and cook at home, using little or no salt. The DASH diet is a well-known low-sodium eating plan that many doctors encourage. Low-salt cooking at home can be creative and delicious.
The Stanford Health Library has scheduled “Life After Salt,” two community lectures featuring food writer Jessica Goldman, 7 p.m. April 7 at the South Palo Alto Stanford Health Library branch and 7 p.m. May 22 at the Redwood City Public Library. When faced with an attack of lupus that caused kidney failure, Goldman, a Stanford University student, had to cut salt from her diet to save her kidneys and avoid a transplant. She made low-sodium eating her mission and set out to find ways to make it both healthful and delicious. Now a San Francisco-based food writer, Goldman’s popular blog, Sodium Girl (sodiumgirl.wordpress.com), is full of inviting photos and appetizing recipes for sodium-free versions of normally salty favorites, like Asian foods. To register for the lectures, call 498-7826.
There are many good books and videos available on the shelves of Stanford Health Library to help guide the way to a low-sodium diet. The bible of low-salt eating, “American Heart Association Low-Salt Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Reducing Sodium and Fat in Your Diet” (3rd ed., 2007) is on the shelves now, with a fourth edition due later this spring. The book features more than 200 recipes and includes tips for dining out, low-sodium style.
A related book, also from the AHA and soon to be on the shelves of the library, is the “American Heart Association No-Fad Diet: A Personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss” (2006).
Don Gazzaniga, a congestive heart failure patient, took control of his diagnosis and developed an eating plan that never went above 500 milligrams of salt a day. His recipes have been published in a number of books, co-authored with his wife, Maureen. Stanford Health Library has three: “The No-Salt, Lowest-Sodium Cookbook: Hundreds of Favorite Recipes Created to Combat Congestive Heart Failure and Dangerous Hypertension” (2001), “The No-Salt, Lowest-Sodium Baking Book” (2003), and “The No-Salt, Lowest-Sodium Light Meals Book” (2005). Soon to be added is the latest from the Gazzanigas (and co-authored by Stanford’s Michael Fowler, M.D.), “Living Well Without Salt” (2010), which promises to be another worthwhile contribution to a reduced-sodium lifestyle.
Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library. For more information, call 725-8400 or visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu.