Doctors are beginning to find that poor nutrition is linked to a variety of diseases — high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s. We hear about fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and complex carbohydrates ad  nauseum, but until it’s too late you don’t hear about one of the worse offenders: salt. In fact, we now have “designer” salt; Himalayan salt, sea salt, garlic salt.

You are eating too much salt, even if you never pick up a salt shaker. I can almost guarantee you are, especially if you eat out. Eventually you will have high blood pressure, and perhaps heart failure or a stroke as a result. 70% of adults in the US have high blood pressure. Why?

Nearly 85% of the adult-sized meals at 10 popular chain restaurants have more than the recommended limit for total sodium intake per day, states the Center for Science in the Public Interest; nearly half had two days’ worth of sodium in a single meal.

U.S. health recommendations urge healthy adults to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (the approximate equivalent of one teaspoon of table salt). However, for the 70% of U.S. adults who already have hypertension, are middle aged or older, or are African-American, the goal is 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day or less. That’s because excess sodium intake is directly linked to an increase in blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The ones to avoid are Red Lobster and Olive Garden according to the same study.  And here’s an article from Men’s Health on “20 Salads That are Worse Than a Whopper.” There are deeper, more nerdy studies than these, and I’ve read many of them. But they all come down to the same thing: our convenience-oriented lives have put us at risk.

To control my own salt intake, I eat out much less. I also go for foods with no salt added. But salt is in everything. Soup is a big offender, as is pasta sauce. Or salsa. Chinese food. Cheese. Even canned tuna has 320 mg of sodium. If you read supermarket labels, as I’ve learned to do, you”ll be amazed at how much salt is in everything that’s prepared or preserved. If you’re human, everything you dearly love is salty.

But I don’t want to stroke out from high blood pressure, and I sure don’t want heart failure. I also don’t always want to cook my own food, and I’ve given up buying prepared food. So what’s my alternative?

My best alternative, unless I want to be a hermit cooking every meal at home and eating it with only dogs for company, is upscale restaurants that have real chefs. There, you can ask for no salt.  But even in those, salt is an issue. Salad dressings, even vinaigrettes, are full of salt. And many restaurants salt their vegetables even before you dress them. All vegetables are cooked with salt, and most chefs salt the water before they put in your pasta, and salt the pasta again when it is mixed with the salty tomato sauce. Hillstone rolls the baking potatoes in sea salt, so even a dry baked potato is loaded with salt. I wipe it on my napkin:-) Meat is always salted.

As consumers of restaurant food, we’re the customer. I think it’s time we took some action.  I’m choosing salt because it’s the easiest to discuss, but really it is salt, sugar and fat that are the lethal trio. By now, we’ve all been programmed by the food industry to crave them.

But there’s a connection that we never think about. Excesses of salt, sugar and fat throw us into the healthcare system somewhere in middle age, and lower our quality of life. Some days it seems like one vast conspiracy: the food industry in league with the health care industry. Feed us cheap, bad food and then feed us expensive pills.

As consumers, we  should be angry: angry at the agricultural industry that puts chemical pesticides in the soil that leech into the food, and then sells that food to us with salt, sugar and fat added to make it more tasty. After the food industry counts its money, its ally the health care system takes over. They’re sick? Feed them X-rays and scans, and then drugs.

I grew up before most food additives and most fast food. Our grandparents ate a much more nutritional diet than we do. When are we ever, as a people, going to learn that we’ve done this to ourselves and we’re the only ones who can change it?

 

 

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