There is an ongoing discussion regarding salt but we also have good science to help us make good salt decisions. There is an important connection between salt intake and heart disease.
My heart health coach clients know that each person’s diet and lifestyle are individual. No single formula applies to everyone. However, salt has a particular effect on the body which most of us share in common.
Is Salt Bad for You?
Let’s start with this question first because I get it asked a lot. I don’t think salt is bad. But for my patients who have major vascular problems, I like them to limit their salt intake.
And for my average heart health client who is healthy and wants to prevent future cardiovascular events, I urge them to reset their salt taste.
Even those with heart failure and hypertension can do fine with normal daily salt intake. But none of us will do too well with the current amounts of salt found in food.
Salt in Prepared Foods
I have a hard time trusting the sodium values listed on boxed foods. Think, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods and canned products. And even if they are accurate, the amount of salt is staggering.
I had a taboule salad today with that chickpea salad from Trader Joe’s which I haven’t had in a year. It was during a busy urgent care shift so that’s all I could grab.
For 4 hours I’ve been dry-eyed and fatigued because my body doesn’t know what to do with the salt. I can drink a lot more water in order to pee out the salt but the salt will change the elasticity of my vessels and will drive up my blood pressure.
Bread and pastry and soups are other classic culprits.
Salt and Vascular Stress
I won’t get into the details in this article but whether you are salt sensitive or not, having more than small amounts of salt in your arteries will cause them to behave differently.
Over a long enough lifespan, this effect is cumulative and decreases the ability of the arteries to function properly. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the arteries of the heart, the brain, or the kidneys.
How Much is too Much
I don’t have my heart health clients count their salt intake. Instead, we start with good food and the salt that’s needed for good food to go down.
Take a salt you made with some spinach, baby greens, nuts, olive oil, tomatoes, and arugula. By itself, it’s not that exciting.
Add in some olives in a brine solution and now it’s exciting. A little bit of vinegar and you’re in for a treat. Of course, you have to get your taste buds used to having less salt. This takes time.
So don’t panic just because you had a few too many salty dishes in your life or during the holidays. Cardiovascular health for most of us is a marathon; slowly retrain your palate to consume less salt.
Salty Taste is a Habit
I’m sure there are exceptions but most of my patients tell me that food and tastes and flavors are matters of habit. Cut out burgers and after a while, you won’t crave them. Or if you have them they’ll feel exceedingly rich.
Cut out sugar or salt and when someone takes you to PF Chang’s you’ll put down your fork. It’s simply too much when you’ve gotten accustomed to just enough salt for the flavors to come through.
Heart health shouldn’t be the only goal for a good life and healthspan. It should be something sustainable and enjoyable. Therefore, salt is fine. It’s when we use excess amounts of it that our body responds and reacts negatively.