A little salt pinching!

The new Canadian Food Guide, expected in 2007, will certainly recommend a decrease in our consumption of salt. American authorities already recommend a maximum intake of 2,300 mg a day, which is slightly half of what an average North American consumes on a daily basis. These guidelines are important for everyone, but even more so for people who are predisposed to hypertension, particularly African-Canadians and people struggling with obesity problems. People with a family history of hypertension or those who have already had a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) find themselves at even greater risks.

The new Canadian Food Guide, expected in 2007, will certainly recommend a decrease in our consumption of salt. American authorities already recommend a maximum intake of 2,300 mg a day, which is slightly half of what an average North American consumes on a daily basis. These guidelines are important for everyone, but even more so for people who are predisposed to hypertension, particularly African-Canadians and people struggling with obesity problems. People with a family history of hypertension or those who have already had a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) find themselves at even greater risks.

Ironically, sodium plays a vital role in our system. It is estimated that between 250 and 500 mg per day is essential to ensure basic physiological functions such as the transmission of nervous influx and muscular contraction, particularly that of the heart. However, when the concentration of sodium in our system is too high, the kidneys retain more water, causing an increase in blood volume. In time, elevated blood pressure intensifies cardiac work, threatening blood vessels stability, thereby increasing the risk for cardiac diseases and CVA.

Only a fraction of the salt we consume comes from our salt shakers. In fact, approximately three quarters of the sodium we ingest comes from processed foods, where it works as a flavour enhancer or stabilizer, and as a preservative. Some products contain notoriously high quantities of sodium: charcuteries such as bacon, ham and sausages, frozen or prepared appetizers, canned vegetables, cheeses, fast-foods, sauces and salad dressings. However, great concentrations of sodium also hide in some pretty unexpected places such as in tomato juice and cottage cheese, which contains close to 1,000 mg of sodium per cup. Hence the importance of reading food labels very carefully.

The best way to avoid consuming too much salt is by choosing foods that are fresh and whole, as close as possible to their natural state.

People suffering from hypertension, notably, are more sensitive to the benefits of salt reduction. Therefore, because blood pressure naturally increases with age, adults should diminish their salt consumption as they age: American food guidelines recommend consuming 1,500 mg of sodium per day for people over 50, a value which decreases to 1,200 mg in people aged 70 and over. According to some studies, adhering to these recommendations would enable arterial tension reduction and therefore, diminish the number of deaths attributed to cardiovascular diseases.

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