When I was in high school, I lived in Southern California on the edge of the Colorado Desert. It was hot. In the summer it was especially hot. One summer I worked in a dairy washing bottles. That was incredibly hot.
One day I passed out. Our family doctor quickly diagnosed my problem. Too little salt. Our bodies need some salt, and I had sweated mine away.
Until last year, just like most people, I went to the other extreme. Too much salt.
Because once in my life I got too little salt, I overcompensated. But a doctor told me not long ago that getting too little salt is so rare and goes along with such heavy sweating that I don’t need to worry about it.
“Do you eat any prepared food?” he continued. I told him that I didn’t, because I never eat in fast food places, almost never eat out at even fine restaurants, and have been careful to buy only salt-free cans of beans and soups.
But I was wrong. I discovered that fact when I checked the nutrition labels of the few cans and bottles that I buy at the local stores of our finest natural food chains, Whole Foods and Wild Oats.
It seems that everything from cans of albacore tuna to jars of capers come packed with almost a day’s supply of salt in a single serving.
My doctor was right on when he zeroed in on prepared food. Food processing is the source of 77 percent of our salt, according to the November 2006 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.. We add 5 percent during cooking, 6 percent at the table, and get 12 percent naturally.
Nature gives us several kinds of salt. The one that nutritionists concern themselves with is sodium, which we call table salt.
We may not need more than 200 milligrams of sodium in a day. We know that the Yanomamo people of the Amazon rainforest get by on that amount. We certainly don’t need more than 1,500 milligrams when we are under 50. People older than 50 only need 1,200 to 1,300 milligrams.
The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have any problem with us taking in 2,400 milligrams daily. But more and more experts are cautioning us that less is better.
Most of us in America get about 4,000 milligrams each day, writes Tara Parker-Pope in the September 19, 2006 issue of The Wall Street Journal. That’s way more than is good for us, particularly our hearts. I know from my own experience as well as what I read that the less sodium I eat the more I am able to reduce my blood pressure. And it is high blood pressure or hypertension that puts a huge strain on our hearts.
Most of us should consume less than 2,300 milligrams a day, says the American Heart Association. And people with heart failure need to stay below 2,000 milligrams per day.
Our heart is the connection to diabetes. Heart attacks and strokes are both the most common and the most dangerous complications of diabetes.
I am doing everything I can to avoid even normally high blood pressure and the heart problems that it can cause. My most recent measurement in a doctor’s office a few days ago was 104 over 60.
Part of the reason for my good blood pressure is because I am eating less and less prepared foods. I do eat canned garbanzo and kidney beans, but beans with no added salt are easy to find both in supermarkets and natural food stores.
Soup is a much more difficult matter. I don’t know of a single restaurant that offers soup that is low is sodium. So I buy soups with no salt added.
Good old Campbell Soup now offers a line of five soups that are truly low in sodium, like 30 to 60 milligrams per can. I’m delighted with their low sodium Split Pea and Cream of Mushroom. I plan to try their Chicken with Noodles, Chunky Vegetable Beef, and Tomato with Tomato Pieces.
Until now, however, I was able to find these new soups only on Amazon.com. Since soup is heavy, it’s not surprising that the shipping charges were more than the product cost.
The local supermarket chains here don’t carry this line of Campbell Soups. So I called Campbell Soup’s customer service people at (800) 257-8443. A helpful representative told me that no one within 50 miles of my home in Boulder, Colorado, carries these soups. But she suggested that I call a store manager and request them. I did just that and he promised to have them within 10 days.
The only other line of low sodium soups I’ve discovered is Health Valley’s. Their Lentil, Black Bean, and Tomato soups are less tasty than the Campbell Soup offerings. But they are organic.
Have you tried any salt substitutes? I’ve discovered that I don’t need to add sodium to anything I eat, even eggs. In a subsequent article I will discuss some herb and spice mixtures as well as a new potassium-based salt substitute.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.