June
1 - 2010

Just call him “SALTon Brown” – but does sodium matter to health?

is salt healthy as alton brown says?

photo by D Sharon Pruitt

The New York Times on Sunday published an article, “The Hard Sell on Salt,” that mentions that Alton Brown (of “Good Eats” fame) is a “gushing” fan of salt, as a spokesperson for Cargill foods and Diamond Salt.

Now, I’m a major fan of a nice salted caramel. But the reviews as to salt’s effect on health are certainly mixed. I’m surprised Mr. Brown is such a spokes-gusher.

Saltworks, “America’s Sea Salt Company,” has a website featuring numerous studies that show salt is just fine for most people. In fact, its cited research suggests, people who reduce their salt have more heart attacks.

But wait! On the other hand, an article published in TIME Magazine last year reported:

Using a sophisticated computer model to analyze trends in heart disease over time among U.S. adults, Bibbins-Domingo and colleagues discovered that incremental population-wide reductions could drastically improve public health. Cutting out just 1 g of salt (or 400 mg of sodium) per person per day could prevent 30,000 cases of coronary heart disease across the U.S. population by 2019. Reducing consumption by half — a more sizable 6 grams — could prevent 1.4 million cases of heart disease during that same period.

And maybe more shockingly:

If Americans halved their salt intake, as many as 150,000 premature deaths could be prevented each year, according to the American Medical Association.

The Mayo Clinic’s article on sodium points out that yes, our bodies need sodium. But no, we do not need as much as we get.
How can you take a balanced approach? The Mayo Clinic suggests:
  1. Avoid processed and prepared foods. The New York Times piece says a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup contains more than a day’s sodium.
  2. Be aware of natural sources of sodium. Milk has sodium. You don’t have to give it up – but know you are consuming some sodium as a matter of course.
  3. Be careful in the kitchen and at the table. Try your food without added salt. Or, do as the New York Times suggests big food manufacturers won’t, and flavor your food with more fresh ingredients and herbs to add flavor without sodium.

And listen to Alton Brown if you want — but remember, he’s an expert on food, not health.

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