The first three parts of this series give information on salt and some of the serious problems of excessive salt in the diet.
Why do we eat so much salt (sodium)? We tend to salt our food to "taste." (See "Second Wind" issues for April, May & June) Salt need not be cooked into anybody's food. It can be added to taste. Most people salt without tasting, which is a big mistake.
The taste for salt decreases with a low salt intake. Thus if you avoid all salty foods and particularly a salt shaker, food will taste great and even better than ever before without salt. If you achieve a low salt taste, virtually everything you used to eat will now taste horrible and salty and you would not ever want to eat it again!
Most people with edema should try to achieve a sodium intake of 1,000 mg (1 gram) or less. This is really tricky since lots of foods such as chicken or turkey are injected with salt as a preservative. Thus, you must read all labels about salt contents. It is very easy to add up to 1,000 mg of sodium daily, which should be the limit of anybody with a serious edema formation that cannot be adequately managed with diuretic drugs ("water pills"). Hopefully these four newsletters on salt have given you some insight into the regulation of "balance known as homeostasis" in the body. The body must have an adequate amount of salt but excesses are very harmful, particularly in older people with cardiovascular, liver, and kidney diseases. Excess salt stimulates the release of mechanisms within the body that drive up blood pressure and have other adverse effects on the heart.
I know from my own experiences that achieving a low salt diet is extremely pleasant, but it requires discipline. Seasoning your food with salt alternatives such as Mrs. Dash, pepper, salt-free vinegar, or a bit of Tabasco which has only a tiny bit of sodium, garlic and other herbs, will allow for some extra "spice" in your diet. If necessary, please learn to eat and enjoy a low salt diet. It will make you healthier and happier.
I'll be in touch next month.
Thomas Petty, MD
Professor of Medicine,
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
Snowdrift Pulmonary Conference