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Twin Falls, ID
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Shake It Up
By Lisa Turner
Salt—the spice we love to hate. But fess up, you know popcorn wouldn’t taste the same without it. Despite salt’s delicious zing, it’s been widely vilified ever since studies in the 1970s linked diets high in sodium to high blood pressure and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Doctors and nutritionists have long recommended low-sodium diets to treat and prevent high blood pressure. Now, new research suggests we can take some of these cautions with, well, a grain of salt.
In a study published in the American Journal of Medicine in March, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City found that people who ate low-sodium diets were 37 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. The researchers examined nutritional information surveys that tracked the dietary habits of 7,154 Americans for 13 years. The data showed that those who restricted their salt intake to less than 2.3 grams a day were much more likely to die from stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular problems than people who ate more salt.
The researchers haven’t figured out why a low-salt diet would raise someone’s mortality risk, but doctors and researchers have debated the pros and cons of salt for years. “The alleged relationship between sodium and heart disease—that salt equals high blood pressure and heart disease—is a total myth,” says David Brownstein, MD, author of Salt Your Way to Health (Medical Alternatives Press, 2006). According to Brownstein, research never has proven that salt raises blood pressure in everyone.
In a pinch
So why have we heard for that salt raises blood pressure? Well, because for those people who are overweight, hypertensive, or genetically “salt-sensitive,” it’s true—salt does tend to increase blood pressure. But for people of normal weight with normal blood pressure levels, research shows that salt intake has no significant effect, says Brownstein.
In short, sodium spikes blood pressure in some people, while others can eat as much as they want without an effect. “It is increasingly evident that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to diet,” writes Hillel W. Cohen, MPH, PhD, lead author of the March study. “This was an observational study, and not a clinical trial, so we can’t really conclude from our findings that low-sodium intakes are harmful. But our study certainly doesn’t support the idea of a universal prescription for lower salt intake.”
In fact, not only is salt not evil—it’s downright good for us. We need it to live. Sodium transports nutrients into cells, regulates fluid volume in the veins and arteries, and helps relay electrical signals between nerves. Cutting your salt intake way down may harm your health, as substantial research shows. A study in the American Journal of Hypertension, for example, found that reducing sodium intake increased insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes. Dramatically cutting back on salt also can raise the body’s levels of reni...
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