Today, Americans are consuming an excess amount of sodium, ingesting more than half of what is recommended by dietitians and nutritionists, and one fast-food joint is acknowledging it.
Just a few weeks ago, Boston Market, a popular restaurant chain, removed all salt shakers off the tables of their 476 locations, to raise awareness of the dangers of consuming too much sodium. But the chain has not eliminated the shakers altogether- they are still available, just customers have to walk a few extra steps to retrieve them at the condiments counter. The restaurant’s officials and employees refuse to comment on their new salt plan, but Boston Market said in a public statement that their goal is to encourage their customers to try the food before adding mounds of salt on it.
According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the adequate intake of salt for an average person should be no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, and research shows that the average daily sodium intake for Americans ages 2 and up is 3,436 mg. And this extra sodium, as reported by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is not coming from table salt, but mostly processed and fast foods.
“Most of the sodium in our diets are not coming from a salt shaker, it is coming from all the processed foods that we eat,” says Erin Macdonald who has been a nutritionist for 18 years and is currently a dietitian at Complete Wellness, NOW! in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. “Everything that comes in a can, a jar, a bag, a box, and fast foods, [have] a lot of sodium in it because sodium is a preservative.”
And Boston Market is well aware of this and has a plan to reduce 20 percent of the sodium in some of their most popular dishes such as the rotisserie chicken, macaroni and mashed potatoes. The chain’s CEO George Michel said in a public statement that they also have plans to have a 15 percent decrease in other items on the menu by 2014.
But MacDonald says that the high amounts of sodium is not just in unhealthy fast foods, but can be found in food items that we normally would consider healthy, such as wheat bread and lunch meats. “Every time someone has a sandwich, all of a sudden they’ve just gotten a big shot of sodium,” she says.
Since most of our food is already packed with lots of sodium, adding extra salt to foods can seriously harm the body and potentially destroy your health in the future, says Dr. James Brodsky, owner of Villa Park Pharmacy in Villa Park, Calif. and is a Clinical Pharmacist and a Nationally Board Certified Naturopathic Physician.
“Some people, when they’re older can’t process the salt very well and it causes high blood pressure,” he says. He adds that too much sodium can also increase the chances of heart disease and strokes, cause vasoconstriction and poor kidneys.
And depending on the amount consumed, an excess amount of salt causes the body to retain between 6-10 pounds of water, which not only makes you heavier, but can “raise up into your body until it gets to the lungs… and you can’t breathe and die from that.”
People who normally have poor diets and already have previous health problems are most at risk because, “salt only makes your condition worse,”especially if you have high cholesterol, says Dr.Brodsky, who has treated patients with high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes for 45 years now.
Having no sodium in your diet is not healthy for you either because it is an electrolyte that the body needs to function. Without it, you can become fatigue and be at risk of heat stroke on days you are out in the sun. But Dr. Brodsky says that when it comes to table salt, there is “no medical need” for it because “we get a little over 1,000 mg of salt without even salting food.”
The only need for salt is taste, and Macdonald says it’s best to add natural herbs and spices such as pepper to your food instead of table salt. Even adding a squirt of lemon may do the trick.
But Dr. Brodsky has a different suggestion. He says that people should “cut back on the salt” and start using potassium chloride, a sodium chloride alternative that can be found at local supermarkets.
And if you really can’t stay away from salt, he says to split your salt shaker half and half; half sodium and half potassium chloride. “It still tastes about the same,” he says, “but you’ll be better off.”