Contrary to reports, shaking salt habit remains essential

Arecent study suggesting that reducing sodium in your diet can lead to a slight increase in cholesterollevels has come under fire by local cardiologists who continue to plead with patients to leave the salt shaker in the cupboard.

A story posted on reported that a study published earlier this month in the American Journal of Hypertension found that sharply reducing the amount of salt you eat increases your total cholesterol by an average 2.5 percent, potentially increasing your risk of heart attack and disease.

Ways to reduce salt intake

Buy fresh, plain, frozen or canned vegetables “with no salt added.”

  • Use fresh poultry, fish and lean meat, rather than canned or processed types.
  • Use herbs, spices and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table.
  • Cook rice, pasta and hot cereals without salt. Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta and cereal mixes, which usually have added salt.
  • Choose “convenience” foods that are lower in sodium. Cut back on frozen dinners, pizza, packaged mixes, canned soups or broths and salad dressings — these often have a lot of sodium.
  • Rinse canned foods, such as tuna, to remove some sodium.
  • When available, buy low-, reduced- or no-salt versions of foods.
  • Choose ready-to-eat breakfast cereals that are lower in sodium.

— Source: National Institutes of Health

The report caught the eye of Medford cardiologist Dr. Brian Gross and his colleagues at Southern Oregon Cardiology.

The cardiologists are not convinced by the article's findings.

"First of all, this is not one of the top-tier journals," Gross said. "I get a foot-high stack of journals every month, and we do a lot of reading here. This is not one that we go to that often."

Gross said the analysis by Danish doctors of previous research drew from too small a patient pool and from studies that did not last long enough.

"It came out of 167 studies that were really short," Gross said. "The people participated for only a very short time before reverting back to their regular diet."

For the study to gain acceptance among cardiologists, Gross said it would have to include 20,000 to 30,000 patients who dedicate themselves to a low-sodium diet for a lengthy period of time.

This, the doctor said, is a difficult proposition.

"Changing eating habits is hard to do," Gross said. "Many people won't stick to a diet without salt."

According to the Mayo Clinic, federal health authorities advise people to consume 2,300 milligrams or less of sodium per day.

This, too, presents problems for a population inundated with salty food, Gross said.

"Salt is in everything these days," Gross said. "It's especially high in fast foods and things like pizza."

Gross said many people lead busy lives and don't have time to cook healthful meals containing vegetables and fruits on a regular basis.

"They eat out and grab a pizza on a Friday night," Gross said. "It's hard to break those habits."

Gross said hospitals are often jammed with people suffering the effects of a high-salt diet.

"Salt gets a lot of my patients in trouble," he said. "We see a lot of people with shortness of breath and heart failure who simply have too much salt in their diet."

The older population is most at risk, because as we age, our hearts and kidneys weaken, making it more difficult to purge salt from our systems.

Sodium often leaves the kidneys and settles in the legs, causing swelling and circulation problems. It sometimes can settle in the lungs and cause shortness of breath, Gross said.

"When I see a patient come in with shortness of breath, the first thing I ask them is what they ate for dinner," Gross said.

Gross said flawed studies such as this one hurt the efforts of doctors who have seen the damage of high-sodium diets firsthand.

"There is overwhelming evidence that a high-sodium diet causes problems for our population," Gross said. "You can cut back on salt and still enjoy your life."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email

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