Friday, July 15, 2011

Let's talk salt...

So as anyone who's read this blog knows, I'm currently following a greatly reduced salt diet due to (probable) Meniere's disease. My sweet spot for salt intake seems to be somewhere in the 1200-1500mg range. This is fairly low. It's not unusual for someone eating the standard American diet to be well over 3000mg.

With that background, I give you a phenomenal interview on salt from Scientific American. Mr. Moyer is actually a old friend of my husband and I've been an admirer of Ms. Nestle's work for years. They're both fabulous. Go read it! I have a ton of thoughts.

1. It's the food supply, stupid. Notice how much Ms. Nestle refers to the salt that's added to processed & restaurant foods? That's important. In order to really reduce your salt intake to low levels you either must prepare your own food from scratch or be exceptionally careful of food prepared for you by others.

2. She makes excellent points about how challenging it is for processed food producers and restaurant chefs to reduce the amount of sodium they use in food. Once our taste buds are accustomed to all that excess salt, we have a very hard time adjusting downwards. For me, it really took a health crisis to do it; and it has not been easy. Without some kind of commitment on the part of food suppliers to reduce salt, we go into an upward spiral. Since food with just a little more salt tastes more appealing and there is no commercial downside to adding more salt, food processors add just a little more and just a little more and just a little more. And our palates slowly adjust to expect more and more salt. It's not clear to me that there is ANY biological top limit whatsoever to this palate creep.

3. When it comes to so-called "nanny state" regulations, I think sodium in restaurant food is a different beast from regulations on other dietary factors. As Ms. Nestle points out, a diner can always add more salt at the table. However, a diner can not remove salt once it's been added. Sodium is added to most restaurant foods way up the supply chain, you can't just ask the chef to leave the salt off and expect to enjoy a low sodium dinner. Reduce the sodium in the supply chain and put the power in the hands of the chef, which gives restaurant diners more options.

4. I wish I was part of the population who's blood pressure doesn't adjust in response to changes in sodium intake. I started out with blood pressure on the low side of normal, now I have real issues with postural hypotension. I don't think I could sustain the kind of super low sodium diet needed for people with renal insufficiency like Sodium Girl. The dizzies aren't much fun when you're chasing after a 3 year old. Better than a vertigo attack, by a long shot, but still.

For me personally, this all goes back to the fundamentals. I buy real, unprocessed food and cook it for my family. If I do that most of the time, it really doesn't take much effort to eat a lower sodium diet. But once I choose to join my friends at a nice restaurant for dinner, I step into a minefield. One that I don't always negotiate all that well.


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