Concerns about health and salt use have fueled sale of sea salts, but are they really different?

Healthy Salt? Debating the Benefits of Sea Salts

CONCERNS ABOUT HEALTH AND SALT USE HAVE FUELED SALE OF SEA SALTS, BUT ARE THEY REALLY DIFFERENT?

This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

It’s hard to talk about health and salt in the same sentence, but every once in a while something comes along that forces the issue. This time it’s sea salts. The pitch being made by promoters is that sea salt contains all of the other minerals found in sea water, while regular table salt is processed to remove them. They claim those minerals are what make sea salt a healthy salt.

This is the point where I say, “Show me the evidence.”

What Makes Sea Salts Different?

All salt comes from the sea, so technically, it’s all sea salt. Some is evaporated from today’s oceans and salt water lakes, some is mined from deposits left from evaporated sea beds that are thousands of years old. When first collected the salt contains a variety of minerals, such as sulfate, magnesium, calcium and potassium.

Table salt is processed to remove the trace minerals and environmental impurities to create a product that has a consistent composition, size and taste.  Anti-clumping agents are added to many commercial brands so the salt flows freely. Iodine may also be added to provide a needed source of this essential mineral.

The first thing you’ll notice about see sea salt is that is isn’t always snow white. The color comes from the impurities that remain in it, like clay and volcanic ash, and the trace minerals. The next visual difference is the size of the crystals. They’re much larger than table salt, more like kosher salt, so don’t expect them to come out of a standard salt shaker.

If you put a few crystals on the tip of your tongue, you’ll find they don’t dissolve instantly. When they do, the taste may be milder or stronger than table salt, depending on the variety you’re sampling. Professional chefs say sea salts provide a fresher flavor to the foods they are added to, but you may not notice the difference.

Now for the big difference: Price. Sea salts cost anywhere from 2 to 10 times more that common table salt!

 Do Trace Minerals Make Sea Salt a Healthy Salt?

All of the other minerals found in sea salt are necessary for good health, but there are not enough of them in a teaspoon of sea salt to make it a useful source. And there are plenty of other ways to get those minerals, specifically from vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low fat dairy products — all foods we need to eat more of.

The most abundant mineral in sea salt is sodium. In fact, sea salt has the same amount of sodium as table salt, and that’s the problem. Dietary guidelines recommend reducing sodium consumption to lower blood pressure and risk for stroke. Sea salt offers no advantage over table salt when it comes to lowering sodium intake.

To see whether people might use less sea salt than table salt due to the texture and taste differences, researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada designed a study to measure that.  They published their findings in Food Research International and reported subjects did not use any less. Their conclusion was sea salt was not a viable option for reducing sodium in the diet.

What this means for anyone looking for a way to enjoy good health and salt is this: Use less salt no matter how much you pay for it!

Heart Healthy Foods You May Have Missed

Some Heart Healthy Foods You May Have Missed

LOOK FOR THESE HEART HEALTHY FOODS THAT DON’T GET THE ATTENTION THEY DESERVE

This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

When looking for foods that can improve your heart health, many of the ones most often recommended are either expensive, not easy to find, or are foods you don’t like. That doesn’t mean you have no chance of lowering your risk factors for heart disease through diet. The same attributes in those commonly named “heart-healthy” foods are found in many other more palatable options.

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Sardines – Salmon gets all the attention when it comes to fatty fish, but sardines are one of the most concentrated sources of the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA you can get, and at a much lower price all year round. The oils in fatty fish help lower triglycerides in the blood and reduce blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms. A 3-ounce serving eaten twice a week is all you need.

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Black beans – Oatmeal is recognized as being good for your heart, but dry beans, like black beans, have the same benefits and are far more versatile in the diet. Beans are a good source of soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and keeps it from being absorbed. They are also rich in phytonutrients, like flavonoids, that can inhibit the clumping of platelets in the blood. Eating ½ cup a day can make a difference.

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Raisins –Like blueberries, raisins are rich in antioxidants that help reduce cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and markers for inflammation. Unlike blueberries, raisins are convenient to have on hand no matter what the season. Enjoy ¼ cup as a fruit serving daily.

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Popcorn – Whole grains don’t just in the form of breads and cereals. Popcorn is a whole grain and a good source of polyphenols, a naturally occurring antioxidant, that improves heart health. It’s very budget friendly and a satisfying snack as long as it’s prepared without excess salt and oil.

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Milk– Most often associated with calcium, milk is also high in potassium which is maintain the fluid balance in the body and help the kidneys eliminate excess sodium. With as much potassium as a medium banana, every 8 ounce glass of fat free milk you drink is a great way to keep your heart strong.

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Plant Stanols and Sterols – These compounds are found in very small amounts in fruits, vegetables, and grains. They help block the absorption of cholesterol, but there is not enough of them in foods to get the 2 grams a day needed for cholesterol-lowering benefits. Daily use of foods fortified with stanols and sterols, such as Minute Maid Heart Wise Orange juice and Benecol spread, is an valuable way to supplement a heart-healthy diet.

Cut salt and sodium in food while keeping the taste by using soy sauce.

New Way to Cut Salt & Sodium While Keeping the Taste

SUBSTITUTING SOY SAUCE FOR SOME OF THE SALT USED ON YOUR FOOD CAN REDUCE SODIUM BY AS MUCH AS 50%

This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

If you’ve tried to reduce the sodium content of your diet by cutting out salt, you’ve probably discovered your food just doesn’t taste as good anymore. Same is true for the low sodium versions of many popular prepared foods on the market.

A new study using soy sauce in place of salt may change all that.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore found they could replace some or all of the salt used in food preparation with naturally brewed soy sauce and get sodium reductions of 33%-50% without changing consumer acceptance. Their findings were published in the Journal of Sensory Studies.

The key to this substitution is that while soy sauce does contain sodium, it is less concentrated than the sodium content in salt. One teaspoon of regular Kikkoman Soy Sauce used in the study contains 307mg sodium while a teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 mg. And Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce has only 107 mg sodium. That’s less sodium than you’ll get from a teaspoon of Dijon mustard or hot sauce, two other condiments commonly used in place of salt.

Another advantage of soy sauce over salt is that it imparts its own special taste to foods called umami. Recognized as the fifth taste – distinct from salty, sweet, bitter and sour – umami is described as savory or meaty. I think of umami as the taste of sautéed mushrooms, one of my favorite flavor enhancers. So it makes sense that it takes its name from the Japanese word for “delicious!”

Swapping out salt for soy sauce works great in homemade soups, tomato sauce, ground beef recipes, and salad dressings. You can even use it on eggs or to boost the flavor of low sodium and reduced-salt foods. It would not be the best substitute for salt in pickles and relishes or in baked goods and desserts.

Click here to learn more about how soy sauce can help you lower the salt and sodium in your diet

Woman with kidney stones standing with hands on her back

Does Calcium Cause Kidney Stones?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

RESEARCH SHOWS CONNECTION BETWEEN DIETARY CALCIUM AND KIDNEY STONES IS BENEFICIAL, DOES NOT CAUSE KIDNEY STONES

The one thing everyone agrees with when discussing kidney stones is how painful they are. Having had them twice in my life I can confirm all reports about how excruciating they are. Childbirth was easier.

What is not so clear is the connection between calcium and kidney stones.

Some new research provides much needed insight into the causes of kidney stones and what we can do to prevent the pain that goes with them.

What Are Kidney Stones?

The most common types of kidney stones are composed of either calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate. Calcium, oxalate and phosphate are all minerals that are part of a healthy diet and are normally dissolved in the urine. Under certain conditions, however, they can precipitate out of solution and form small insoluble stones that are passed through the urinary tract unnoticed.

The biggest contributor to the formation of these stones is not drinking enough fluids. The more fluids we drink the more urine we produce, and the more urine we produce the more diluted the minerals will become in our urine.

Another contributor is a high salt diet. When we have excess sodium in our bodies the kidneys must use all available fluids to dilute the sodium so it can be excreted in the urine. That increases the risk that other minerals will precipitate and form stones.

If stones do form and they become too big to pass easily, they can cause the notorious back pain. This, along with the other tell-tale signs of a kidney problem blood such as blood in the urine and pain while urinating, should send you straight to the doctor.

Does Calcium Cause Kidney Stones?

Even though too little fluid and too much sodium are the leading causes of kidney stones, it was widely believed that calcium was the problem since most kidney stones contain calcium. But studies have shown calcium is not the culprit.

People who have the most calcium in their diets are much less likely to suffer from kidney stones than those who eat very few calcium-rich foods. Here’s why.

We need calcium to remove oxalate, the other half of what makes up most kidney stones. Oxalate is found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and soy products, plus cocoa and black tea. There’s really no avoiding it and maintaining a healthy diet. But the more calcium we have in our digestive tracts, the more it can bind with oxalate and remove it from the body before it can settle in the kidneys.

If we cut back too much on calcium, oxalate can accumulate in the kidneys and create stones with the available calcium.

The key here is that it is dietary calcium that helps, such as that found in dairy products and other calcium-rich foods. Calcium supplements are not as effective and may contribute to stone formation if taken in large quantities.

What Else Can Cause Kidney Stones?

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) has an Information Clearinghouse that answers all of the questions you may have about kidney stones, and more. The key takeaways for anyone wondering what their risk might be are these:

  • Family history of hypercalciuria, a condition of high calcium levels in the urine
  • Personal history of kidney stones
  • Personal history of gout or high uric acid levels in blood or urine
  • Regular use of diuretics (medications to help the kidneys remove fluids from the body)
  • Regular use of calcium-based antacids
  • High dose calcium supplements in people who don’t have osteoporosis (more than 2000 mg/day)
  • High dose vitamin D supplements in people who are not deficient (more than 2000 I.U/day)

Check back here for my next blog about another stony issue, gall stones.

Avoid overeating at Christmas parties to reduce risk for weight gain in the New Year.

Is Overeating at Christmas Just One More Way to Splurge?

AVOID OVEREATING AT CHRISTMAS TO PROTECT YOUR HEALTH

It’s party season and with those parties comes the annual excuse to eat, drink and be merry! Then after splurging on too much food or booze there’s the all too familiar lament, “It was just this one time.” Trouble is, that particular “one time” may have been the annual Christmas party, while the next “one time” may be your birthday or wedding anniversary or you-name-it occasion that is just another excuse to overeat and drink.

Before you know it, those binges are happening on a regular basis. But no matter what the frequency, they are not good for your body or diet. The excess calories, fat, sodium and whatever else you swallow without tasting are nearly impossible to offset by weeks of sensible eating and drinking. Even one big splurge a year can trigger an inflammatory response that can leave permanent scars on your artery walls.

Believing that it’s okay to overindulge once in a while is like believing you can drive over the speed limit without wearing a seatbelt occasionally. Both are very risky behaviors that can have drastic consequences.

The sooner you get those eating and drinking binges under control, the better your health will be. Here’s why.

Our bodies do not rate us on how many “good” days of eating we’ve had against the number of “bad” days. Instead, the value of everything we eat and drink is counted as consumed. The goal is for the high numbers to get averaged down by lower ones so our totals add up right by the end of the week.

For example, if you have a caloric allowance of 2000 per day and eat 2200 calories on Monday, you need to eat just 1800 on Tuesday to average it out. Or you can eat 1900 on both Tuesday and Wednesday to offset the excess 200 calories. Or you can add another 30 minutes of moderate physical activity to your week to cancel them out.

But what if you splurge over the weekend and eat an extra 3000 calories or 80 grams of fat or 5000 mg of sodium? It’s not difficult to consume those values in one sitting, but scaling back on what and how much you eat in order to offset them is nearly impossible. There just aren’t enough days in the week to average those high numbers back into your diet.

The result is slow but steady weight gain, clogged arteries and high blood pressure, along with an increasing risk for numerous other preventable diseases. Splurging for just one day or even one meal is not worth it if you cannot repair the damage.

The best anti-splurging strategy during this holiday party season and throughout the rest of the year is a simple one. Don’t let refreshments become more important than relationships.

  • Connect with the people instead of your plate.
  • Talk and listen more, eat and drink less.
  • Leave with the number for a new contact, not another notch up on the scale.

Read more about the numbers that matter in my post:

Weight Control, Healthy Diet and Fitness Are All a Numbers Game