Sodium Intake and Your Health: A Tale of Two Standards

When it comes to making food pleasurable to the taste buds, adding salt to a cuisine definitely helps make that a reality. Salt has been known not just as a food additive for flavor enhancement, but for thousands of years, it has also been used as a preservative to extend the shelf-life of food.

However, as with many things in western society, the use of salt has become excessive. Simultaneously, the prevalence of obesity has also been on the rise along with the associated negative health consequences, such as, diabetes, renal (kidney) disease, and cardiovascular disease. For all of these outcomes, in one way or another, the common denominator is hypertension (high blood pressure), so controlling this risk-factor is paramount in maintaining good long-term health.

Advertisements

Clinicians advise that for good cardiovascular health, we maintain a resting blood pressure reading of 120/80 or less. So what does that readout actually mean? The top number, 120, represents the pressure that blood vessels are subjected to when the heart pumps, and the bottom number, 80, represents the pressure on the blood vessels when the heart is at rest.

Important blood pressure levels to consider
Hypertension: 140/90 and above
Prehypertension: 121-139/81-89
Normal: 120/80 and below

A primary factor that influences blood pressure is sodium, and the most common form of sodium consumption is salt. Although there is a common misconception that the two substances are synonymous, on a molecular level, salt in the form of NaCl (sodium chloride) is 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride, so salt is not purely sodium.

Without getting too detailed with the molecular chemistry of NaCl (sodium chloride), this is a simplified representation of the salt molecule at an atomic level.

Taking this into consideration, it is clear that tracking sodium intake is prudent to the regulation of blood pressure. Specific populations are more susceptible to the impacts of excessive sodium intake, such as adult populations over 50 years old, individuals with a history of cardiovascular complications, and individuals of African descent.

To help the general population gauge how much sodium they should be consuming, the USDA has established guidelines for daily sodium intake, with 2300mg being the upper limit for the general population, and 1500mg for more salt-sensitive groups.

However, just because there are guidelines in place, does not mean that we actually abide by them. Unfortunately, it is estimated that about 90 percent of Americans are ingesting too much sodium, and according to the CDC, the average American consumes more than 3400mg of sodium per day! It’s no wonder that with the over-indulgence of this element, cardiovascular-related disorders and diseases are the leading cause of death, not just in the United States, but also in the world!

Advertisements

So how are we consuming so much sodium? I mean, we’re talking thousands of milligrams per day, so is it that hard to stay within the suggested limits? The figure below, courtesy of the CDC, may give you an idea of how quickly your sodium intake can add up.

Breads, canned goods, processed foods, fast foods, and packaged snack foods contain some of the highest levels of sodium that can be potentially introduced into our diets, so avoiding these where possible is strongly advised when striving to follow a low-sodium regimen.

Now, if we go back to the sodium intake guidelines we notice that in the context of ethnic groups, only African-descended people are advised to shoot for the lower sodium limit, which begs the question, “Why?”

There is no one over-arching smoking gun, but one link that has been made pertains to the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) gene, which manifests itself in multiple variants/forms. This ACE gene is responsible for inducing the release of a hormone called angiotensin, which regulates the level of constriction of the blood vessels and, by proxy, regulates blood pressure.

Some of these ACE variants which exist in people of African-descent are more sensitive to sodium, and exposure to certain levels of this element can result in an over-constriction of the blood vessels, leading to an elevated systolic blood pressure.

Advertisements

However, with this in mind, African-descended people who may be nutrition facts-conscious and track their sodium consumption may need to be wary of another revelation: The nutrition facts label assumes that your daily limit of sodium is capped at the general population’s recommendation of 2300mg.

Oops.

So instead of going by the percent of daily value, people of African descent and other susceptible groups need to pay attention to the number of milligrams of sodium, and align it with their 1500mg limit.

Some of these group-specific nuances have a history of being overlooked or ignored, as we have highlighted in previous publications regarding dairy consumption, or even calcium and vitamin D daily recommendations.

Advertisements

As is typical with science, opposite findings have been revealed when tipping the scale to the other extreme of very little sodium consumption. There are also instances where lower sodium intake may not show benefits to cardiovascular health, and some of these findings are presumptively gathered and disseminated as a devil’s advocate rebuttal to the promotion of a diet lower in sodium.

However, what is often overlooked is that the studies supporting this rebuttal are composed of majority or entirely Caucasian participants; this means that we don’t really know if these claims hold the same weight for African descendants, Hispanics, Asians, or any other non-Caucasian groups (remember those ethnic group nuances we mentioned earlier?). According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 500mg of sodium is the minimum requirement for physiological health (healthy bodily function). In this day and age, barring an extreme circumstance, it is pretty difficult to not eclipse that threshold.

Claims of a low sodium diet not being beneficial may only be relegated to individuals with a history of congestive heart failure, or in very extreme instances of voluntary (diet) or involuntary (starvation) sodium restriction. These claims should not be irresponsibly dispersed as this may mislead and misinform the readers. Any study findings that have shown a lack of benefit from lower sodium intake (within physiologically relevant levels, such as 1000mg-2000mg) have been relegated to almost exclusively Caucasian participants.

Advertisements

So, besides the typical recommendations of avoiding sodium-laden foods or suppressing the urge to add excess salt when cooking (and at the dinner table), are there any other ways to help individuals of African descent reduce sodium intake? Definitely!

  • Consume more potassium-rich foods. Potassium and sodium are fierce competitors for some of the same targets, so the blood pressure-raising effects of sodium can be offset by the presence of this element. Bananas, orange juice, sweet potatoes, and spinach are excellent sources of potassium, for example.
  • Consider using a proportion of potassium chloride with traditional sodium chloride salt. Some food companies have done this, like Smartfoods, with their bagged popcorn.
  • Transition to a more contemporary salt alternative, such as SODA-LO with their salt microspheres. Simply put, it is your traditional sodium chloride salt, but with a twist; it’s engineered as hollow spheres instead of dense flakes or granules, so the density of salt (and concentration of sodium) is up to 50% less! This Tate & Lyle’s ingredient has garnered recognition for its innovative goal of helping reduce our sodium intake, while apparently retaining that same magnificent salty taste (*wink wink*). Hopefully, this product can be approved for adoption worldwide, if it hasn’t already.
  • Make sure to consult your primary care physician or personal dietician for guidance in implementing the aforementioned suggestions, as well as other alternatives I haven’t mentioned here.

With the daily grind of work, family, and recreation, it can be challenging to plan and execute your goals of reducing sodium intake. Meal planning and cooking take time, I get it. But believe me, it’s worth the effort. Not only will your body thank you for it, but so will your loved ones; not just for sticking around, but for maintaining a higher quality of life while you’re still here.

Don’t forget to hit that ‘like’ button if you enjoyed this content, and make sure to subscribe to our platform so that you receive notifications of our latest intriguing science news and media! If you’re more of the social media type, follow and ‘like’ our Facebook page!

Milk- An Udder Mistake?

We’re told to drink cow’s milk to build stronger bones, while being  bombarded with “Got milk?” commercials, posters, and sound-bytes supporting dairy in our diet. However, why milk is needed may not be entirely clear. Is milk really crucial to our bone health? Let’s talk about it.

A screenshot of a cell phone screen with text

Description automatically generated

Some of us may remember the food pyramid, created in 1992 by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, displaying how many servings of each food group are needed to be healthy and strong. 

As it pertains to the dairy section, we were told that each day we should consume 2-3 servings of dairy products, all of which includes milk and foods derived from it. As of 2011, the USDA has opted to replace this reference with a food plate to provide an updated look to their food policy promotion.

Milk serves as an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D which are essential micronutrients that work together for the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, while also supporting a functional immune system to fight infection and disease.

According to the United States Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium is 1,000 mg/day with older, post-menopausal women recommended to take upwards of 1200mg/day; regarding vitamin D intake, the RDA ranges between 10 mcg and 20 mcg per day, depending on the age group.

(Currently, the FDA is implementing plans for updating nutrition labels pertaining to units of conversion by July 1, 2021, and as an example, vitamin D’s International units (IU) are being converted to micrograms (mcg). Until then, you can use this calculator for a variety of conversion purposes, to avoid confusion.)

USDA Food Plate, 2011

Of note, very few foods naturally contain substantial vitamin D, thus requiring supplementation of our food supply with this nutrient to reach our daily recommendations. For example, 1 cup of raw cow’s milk contains .03 mcg – .20 mcg (.3% – 2% daily value!) of vitamin D. As a result, since the 1930s milk in the U.S. has been supplemented with 2.5mcg of vitamin D per cup of milk (25% of daily recommendation). Calcium, on the other hand, is a naturally occurring in cow’s milk, providing 300mg or 30% of the daily recommendation. 

A person sitting on a table

Description automatically generated

All things considered, it seems to make sense that we be encouraged by our food policy entities to obtain our nutritional requirements through the easiest, most supplemented routes possible. Yet, studies have shown there are still shortcomings in nutrient acquisition of calcium and vitamin D. Well, there seem to be underlying reasons behind the great disparities in United States’ dairy consumption between demographics, which we allude to next. 

The primary deterrent of almost all non-european ethnic groups consuming dairy is a condition termed lactose intolerance. This is due to a deficiency or absence of an enzyme called lactase, which allows for the digestion of products containing the sugar lactose. Symptoms of lactose intolerance can include abdominal discomfort, flatulence (gas), diarrhea, and nausea. Contrary to popular belief, lactose intolerance is not an exception to the rule. As a matter of fact, most adolescent and adult human beings are lactose intolerant to some degree, and after observing the table included in this article, you will realize the individuals most amenable to consuming dairy products over their lifetime are those of European descent. 

Research has been done to explore whether the discomfort of dairy intake for lactose intolerant individuals can be alleviated by consistent consumption. One study, for example, shows that through daily consumption of lactose-containing products over the course of three weeks, it appears that symptoms and measured lactose intolerance did not worsen over time; these results were consistent with previous studies. However, considering the reality that people of all ages consume dairy for years on end, a longer-term study may be necessary to see if this study’s findings hold true, or if other physiological responses arise.  

So, is it really necessary to force-feed dairy to people that naturally and biologically reject it? A growing number of specialists believe the answer is no, and the research to backup that rebuttal is starting to pile up. Be sure to check out our follow-up article which will dive deeper into the research behind propositions to overhaul current U.S. food recommendations, and why dairy as a universal, life-long source of calcium and vitamin D, may be a big mistake. 

A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated
Lactose Intolerance Prevalence by Demographic
A picture containing person, ground, outdoor, boy

Description automatically generated

In the meantime, as the debate continues over whether dairy should be as heavily promoted, here are some non-dairy alternatives to obtain your current daily requirements of vitamin D and calcium:     

Vitamin D

* Fish

* Orange juice with fortified vitamin D

* Mushroom

* Fortified almond milk

Calcium

* Leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens)

* Seeds (sesame, flax seeds)

* Broccoli

* Beans

If you found this article informative please hit the ‘like’ button below, and don’t forget to subscribe to our platform for the latest intriguing science news and media!

Advertisements

Milk: An Udder Mistake?

We’re told to drink cow’s milk to build stronger bones, while being  bombarded with “Got milk?” commercials, posters, and sound-bytes supporting dairy in our diet. However, why milk is needed may not be entirely clear. Is milk really crucial to our bone health? Let’s talk about it.

A screenshot of a cell phone screen with text

Description automatically generated

Some of us may remember the food pyramid, created in 1992 by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, displaying how many servings of each food group are needed to be healthy and strong. 

As it pertains to the dairy section, we were told that each day we should consume 2-3 servings of dairy products, all of which includes milk and foods derived from it. As of 2011, the USDA has opted to replace this reference with a food plate to provide an updated look to their food policy promotion.

Milk serves as an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D which are essential micronutrients that work together for the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, while also supporting a functional immune system to fight infection and disease.

According to the United States Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium is 1,000 mg/day with older, post-menopausal women recommended to take upwards of 1200mg/day; regarding vitamin D intake, the RDA ranges between 10 mcg and 20 mcg per day, depending on the age group.

(Currently, the FDA is implementing plans for updating nutrition labels pertaining to units of conversion by July 1, 2021, and as an example, vitamin D’s International units (IU) are being converted to micrograms (mcg). Until then, you can use this calculator for a variety of conversion purposes, to avoid confusion.)

USDA Food Plate, 2011

Of note, very few foods naturally contain substantial vitamin D, thus requiring supplementation of our food supply with this nutrient to reach our daily recommendations. For example, 1 cup of raw cow’s milk contains .03 mcg – .20 mcg (.3% – 2% daily value!) of vitamin D. As a result, since the 1930s milk in the U.S. has been supplemented with 2.5mcg of vitamin D per cup of milk (25% of daily recommendation). Calcium, on the other hand, is a naturally occurring in cow’s milk, providing 300mg or 30% of the daily recommendation. 

A person sitting on a table

Description automatically generated

All things considered, it seems to make sense that we be encouraged by our food policy entities to obtain our nutritional requirements through the easiest, most supplemented routes possible. Yet, studies have shown there are still shortcomings in nutrient acquisition of calcium and vitamin D. Well, there seem to be underlying reasons behind the great disparities in United States’ dairy consumption between demographics, which we allude to next. 

The primary deterrent of almost all non-european ethnic groups consuming dairy is a condition termed lactose intolerance. This is due to a deficiency or absence of an enzyme called lactase, which allows for the digestion of products containing the sugar lactose. Symptoms of lactose intolerance can include abdominal discomfort, flatulence (gas), diarrhea, and nausea. Contrary to popular belief, lactose intolerance is not an exception to the rule. As a matter of fact, most adolescent and adult human beings are lactose intolerant to some degree, and after observing the table included in this article, you will realize the individuals most amenable to consuming dairy products over their lifetime are those of European descent. 

Research has been done to explore whether the discomfort of dairy intake for lactose intolerant individuals can be alleviated by consistent consumption. One study, for example, shows that through daily consumption of lactose-containing products over the course of three weeks, it appears that symptoms and measured lactose intolerance did not worsen over time; these results were consistent with previous studies. However, considering the reality that people of all ages consume dairy for years on end, a longer-term study may be necessary to see if this study’s findings hold true, or if other physiological responses arise.  

So, is it really necessary to force-feed dairy to people that naturally and biologically reject it? A growing number of specialists believe the answer is no, and the research to backup that rebuttal is starting to pile up. Be sure to check out our follow-up article which will dive deeper into the research behind propositions to overhaul current U.S. food recommendations, and why dairy as a universal, life-long source of calcium and vitamin D, may be a big mistake. 

A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated
Lactose Intolerance Prevalence by Demographic
A picture containing person, ground, outdoor, boy

Description automatically generated

In the meantime, as the debate continues over whether dairy should be as heavily promoted, here are some non-dairy alternatives to obtain your current daily requirements of vitamin D and calcium:     

Vitamin D

* Fish

* Orange juice with fortified vitamin D

* Mushroom

* Fortified almond milk

Calcium

* Leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens)

* Seeds (sesame, flax seeds)

* Broccoli

 

* Beans

 

If you found this article informative please hit the ‘like’ button below, and don’t forget to subscribe to our platform for the latest intriguing science news and media!

Advertisements