DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son, 57, salts most every food in his diet. He told me that his doctor said, “Eat all the salt you want.” I looked him in the eye, and it was hard not to believe him. I did say I found it hard to believe.
My son gets regular checkups every five years.
Personally, there’s no salt on my table. I eat very little processed foods. Please set my son straight. — P.
ANSWER: Most doctors for most of the recent past have told their patients to go easy on salt. Official medical advisory committees composed of the most knowledgeable scientists — The American Heart Association is one example — have and still do recommend that our intake of salt (sodium) should be limited to 1,500 mg a day. In some instances, an intake of 2,300 mg is permitted. This is far lower than our present salt use.
Most of our dietary salt comes from processed foods like pizza, meats such as corned beef (500 mg of sodium in two ounces), hot dogs (more than 500 mg of sodium in one hot dog), commercial soups, frozen dinners, breakfast cereals, some breads and baked goods. People have to become readers of the nutrition labels put on all foods.
Reducing the intake of sodium lowers blood pressure and reduces the chances for a heart attack and stroke.
I have to add that a few voices have been raised recently to champion diets with no limitations on the amount of salt. These researchers say that low-salt diets are not healthy. I am sticking with the authorities who recommend salt reduction until the majority of nutritional experts change their minds. I don’t think that’s going to happen.
You sent a little item on potassium. Potassium, unlike sodium, lowers blood pressure. We’re told to get 4,700 mg of it a day. It’s found in baked potatoes with skins, sweet potatoes, bananas, orange juice, milk, kidney beans, cantaloupe, avocado and prunes. Salt substitutes are usually potassium. They can be used by most people if they’re not taking blood pressure drugs like ACE inhibitors and ARBs, angiotensin-receptor blockers.
The booklet on sodium and potassium discusses these two minerals and their uses. To order a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 202W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: In a prior column you advocated drinking a daily amount of water that would satisfy one’s thirst, not a set amount of water as some people believe. I agree with you.
However, when I travel to Colorado, I am urged to drink glass after glass of water to allay the effects of altitude. Do you think this is valid advice? — D.K.
ANSWER: I do.
Mountain air is dry. Altitude makes a person breathe more rapidly than normal. Fluid is lost from the lungs when a person breathes fast. You can become dehydrated if you don’t increase your fluid intake. After a few days of acclimatization, you can ease off on your water intake.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.