My father grew up in a poor family as one of four boys born to a very nurturing and complacent mother. I was only eight when my grandmother mentally left us. I realize now that I never knew who she was as a person. I only saw the hard working woman whose main purpose in life was to serve and please everyone else in the family. I hate to say that I don't know if she had any hobbies of her own besides cooking and cleaning.
I'm unsure if my father's upbringing contributed to him being so stuck in his ways, but I am sure many of these blogs will be lovingly dedicated to the thoughts he throws my way. He does keep me on my toes and keeps me thinking. So without further ado....
"Dad you shouldn't put so much salt on everything, it isn't good for you."
"I can eat as much salt as I want, I don't have high blood pressure."
It's interesting that while at work all day, I am constantly answering all types of different and difficult health questions for my patients, yet my father has this uncanny ability to throw me off guard with these types of statements. I am just left blindsided watching him pour on more salt, and the only response I muster is "Well it's still bad for you". I automatically think of my grandfather, who when he was not much older than my father is today, had a massive heart attack while driving and died instantly. My father loudly huffs at me, making it quite clear he isn't listening.
Technically our body does need sodium for many bodily functions including muscle movements, water regulation and nerve conduction. We cannot function properly without it. However, most sodium deficiencies are caused from excess loss from vomiting, diarrhea, excessive exercise, etc. Sodium is naturally found in many foods, making it a very rare deficiency from dietary means.
The problem with excess salt intake comes from our love of it. Salt is so commonly added to foods to make it more palatable and we have become so accustomed to it being there that food tastes bland without it. Sodium is also used in excessive amounts in processed foods, both for taste as well as to keep it fresh. The over abundance of salt is very taxing to our kidneys and the artery walls, and when eaten in excess daily it can cause permanent damage. Its scary to think the average American consumes around 3400mg when the recommended dietary amount is between 1500mg-2300mg (1).
So, what is that excess salt doing to your body exactly? When you have excess salt in your system, your blood vessels harden and become less flexible. For someone with high blood pressure, this hardening will cause enough pressure to increase the blood pressure even more. So then why would an individual without high blood pressure need to worry about this? Independent of whether blood pressure is high or not, this continual hardening of the blood vessels leads to atherosclerosis, which puts massive amounts of pressure on the heart and can eventually lead to heart failure (2).
The Kidneys are responsible for filtering all of the excess salt out of your body and they are very efficient at this job. However when they are constantly overwhelmed by the amount of sodium in the body it can lead to kidney dysfunction.(2)
I'm sure every woman has heard of the importance of calcium for the bones and many women take calcium supplements to help with bone density problems. Did you know that an excess of sodium in the blood can cause both calcium being eliminated in the urine as well as calcium loss for bones? This leaching of calcium from the bones can have another adverse effect. The calcium that escapes from the bones makes its way to the kidneys and can become kidney stones. (2)
Now that I have listed reasons that excess salt intake can be harmful to the body, I just want to state that I am not saying that you can never again enjoy salty foods. Its the overload of continual a-salt (I crack me up...) on the body that will have detrimental effects. So how can we limit salt intake without eating food that tastes band? Here are a few simple tips.
1) Try spicing things up with other seasonings
Garlic, lemon, onion, herbs and vinegars can all add flavor without increasing the salt content of food
2) Try to stay away from processed foods
Cooking your own meals from fresh ingredients will considerably lower your sodium intake
3) Look at nutrition labels
If you must eat processed foods, at least make smart informed decisions. Limit any meal to 500-600mg sodium
If you do suffer from high blood pressure and are having a hard time managing it with a low sodium diet, try acupuncture. It has been shown to lower blood pressure and also considerably lower stress and anxiety that may contribute to the problem. Read a case study on the topic here--> http://www.healthcmi.com/Acupuncture-Continuing-Education-News/1189-acupuncture-lowers-hypertension-new-case-study
Now I'll have to work on getting my father to listen to me.