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Interesting Ideas…

Of late I’ve been hearing the opposite of what I have grown up hearing.  This contrary discussion regards salt intake, weight and cardiovascular disease.  Maybe the low sodium/no sodium solution that I learned when I was young isn’t really correct at all.

New research is suggesting that the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease may actually be greater for those on low/no salt diets than for those on high salt diets.  As I said, this is in complete opposition to what I learned after my father’s first heart attack when I was young.  Science Daily in May of 2008 reported on a study that suggested that at least some additional research needed to be done into the link between salt and cardiovascular disease.  According to the article, the 25% of subjects who were on the low/no sodium diets had “significantly increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.”  In fact this group had an 80% greater risk of cardiovascular disease than the 25% of the sample who had the high sodium diets.  The low/no sodium group also had a 24% increase in risk of death from any cause.  While this was an observational study and not a clinical trial, it does suggest that more research needs to be done.

This reminds me of other things that became taboo at the time.  High fat meats like pork, eggs, shellfish, butter and fats in general.  All of these things over the years have since been proven to have little influence on a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease.   The key to each of these has been one word, moderation.  So, a little salt in you’re food may actually be good for you.  Of course if you listen to The Salt Institute you’ll be told that salt is actually good for you.  I’m of course suspect of what they have to say, because their job is to promote the use of salt.  On the other hand, the best research often comes out of the industry because they have the money to actually back extensive studies into their products.

The other idea that intrigued me also flies in the face of the common lore regarding salt.  Most everywhere you look you will find references to how fat, sugar and salt increase your appetite.  But again, observational and anecdotal evidence actually suggest that at least salt really doesn’t fit into that category.  Now, I think that salt has traditionally been lumped into that appetite stimulant camp because many of the salty snacks are also things we tend to eat fairly mindlessly.  Things like chips, pretzels, and nuts make up the vast majority of those kinds of foods.  As the old ad goes, “Lays Potato Chips.  No one can eat just one… ”  Well, if you’re going to eat an entire bag of chips, maybe you’re going to gain weight.  After all, you’re getting a lot of fat, salt and potatoes in that bag of chips.  Question is though which one of those is causing the most significant fat gain?  Recent discoveries into metabolism suggests that fat is a neutral with regard to blood sugar and weight gain.  Science also suggests that salt, while it does contribute to water retention and some subsequent weight gain, it doesn’t cause you to increase fat stores and any weight gained can be easily lost by reducing salt intake.  So maybe salt isn’t the bad guy here.

But we’re talking about salt and appetite, not really weight.  As I said, the usual culprit in the salt as appetite stimulant is snack foods.  Those foods we maybe eat mindlessly while watching TV, at a sporting event, movies, or out with friends.   What happens if we look at those foods we call appetizers?  Things like soups, antipasti, and the small tidbits offered before meals?  Here we find a very different response.  The intense flavors associated with these often salty foods, actually trigger a response that limits your appetite for the main course.  What we see here may be related to the timing of a meal where an appetizer is the norm.  Those kinds of meals tend to be slower paced, allowing your stomach to send the signal to you’re brain to stop eating.   Further, some of the most often recommended foods for reducing appetite are inherently salty; pickles, clear soups and broth (even bullion), and nuts are often suggested.

Hey, this isn’t sitting in a movie, shoveling in the popcorn from the extra large bucket and washing it down with a trough of diet soda within an hour and a half so you can score your free refills on the way out, this is civilized eating.  Give a little bit of salt a chance.  It enhances the flavor of foods, may actually help you feel fuller earlier in the meal so you don’t eat as much, and maybe help keep you on the low risk end for cardiovascular disease.  At any rate, taken in moderation salt certainly will make you’re food more enjoyable.

OH, and for god’s sake people… TASTE YOUR FOOD BEFORE YOU GRAB THAT SALT SHAKER!  Better yet, don’t even put the salt shaker on the table.  Make yourself get up and get it.

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