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Did you know Americans eat up to 10 times more salt than they need? While we need sodium from salt for proper cell function, we consume far more than is necessary.

This assault may result in consequences such as high blood pressure, heart failure, and other problems related to fluid retention. Studies show that societies with low salt intake have very low hypertension even in the elderly. Mass hypertension, follows mass salt consumption.

Excess sodium can stay in the body tissues and hold extra water. This causes edema and swelling. This, in turn, applies pressure to the large network of capillaries, which then forces blood pressure to increase in order to get the blood pushed through the resistant circulatory channels. The excess pressure increases the stress on the heart.

Every third American adult now has an elevated blood pressure and in those over the age of 65 that figure rises to 70%.

Yet, not everyone is salt sensitive. Some people can eat all they want and have no ill effect. But most Americans have some vulnerability to salt. It would be nice if there were a test to identify who might be sensitive, but none exists.

Salt sensitive people retain sodium, and in order to dilute the sodium, the body causes fluid retention. Many people carry five to seven extra pounds of water weight because of excess salt in their bodies. Decreasing salt intake allows the body to shed the excess water pounds.

It is estimated that 30 million Americans who have mild essential hypertension could normalize their blood pressure by cutting their salt intake. The American Heart Association recommends 2,300 milligrams per day (about 1 teaspoon of table salt), but admits 1,500 mg is ideally better for most adults.

A lower salt diet not only can lower hypertension but it has also been found to favorably affect premenstrual syndrome (PMS), certain headaches, and some depression.

You might think taking diuretics (water pills) is the easy answer to too much salt. But research has shown some of these medications may possibly contribute to heart disease by increasing cholesterol levels, damaging kidneys, promoting gout, and accelerating diabetes. The safer and less costly way to go is a natural way of lower salt intake.

Work with your doctor to determine what is the best level of salt intake for you since some people may be at risk for hyponatremia (a life-threatening condition where the blood sodium is abnormally low). Hyponatremia can occur with the use of certain medications, certain disease conditions, decreased kidney function, ingesting too much water, or excessive exercise.

When a daily exercise program like walking, weight loss, and a low-salt and low fat diet are adopted, people who have mild and perhaps even moderate hypertension may be able to ease off their blood pressure pills with their physician’s help.

But we might think, “I don’t think I could live with salt-less foods.” We learned to like to salt and when we eat salty foods, the craving for salt grows. Shake the salt habit with seasonings of herbs and spices. In three weeks taste buds change and you will find those salty foods even unpleasant.

Things to watch out for are salty snacks, pickled foods, processed foods, restaurant meals, dressings, ketchup, baked goods, processed meats, dairy, canned vegetables, and certain presweetened cereals. Yes, a serving of cornflakes has more sodium than a serving of potato chips!

The amount of sodium the body needs is less than 500 milligrams or about a quarter-teaspoon of salt to function properly. Start with cutting back. Eat lots of fresh, raw foods (the fruits and vegetables) that do not need salt. If you undercook vegetables they will also require less salt. These natural potassium rich foods can help lower blood pressure. Look for low salt and unsalted snacks. Toast bread and cereals to add flavor. Flavor foods with lemon juice, fresh herbs, parsley, tarragon, garlic, and onions, instead of salt. Invest in a salt-free cookbook for ideas.

The average American eats 8 pounds of salt a year. Reducing this to three pounds would be a major step toward better health.

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