Shake the habit

Shake the habit

July 22nd, 2010 by Anne Braly in Shape

A recent study found that if Americans cut 1 gram of salt from our daily diet, we'd see 250,000 fewer new cases of heart disease. (Elizabeth M. Smith/The State/MCT)

Excess salt has been linked to a host of health problems. They range from heart disease and stroke to high blood pressure, which can lead to kidney damage, vision loss and memory loss, says Allison Knott, registered dietitian at Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Ga.

The southeastern United States has the highest occurrence of heart disease and stroke and the highest rates of heart failure, according to the Consortium for Southeastern Hypertension Control.

Health officials say that it's time to shake the habit. Cutting back on salt is easy enough to do at home, but dining out presents a challenge.

Still, some local restaurateurs, even those specializing in Southern comfort food, are taking the lead on swaying their customers' taste for salty seasonings.

Typical of many restaurants, The Blue Plate on Chestnut Street once took a liberal approach to salt, said owner Rob Gentry.

"Now, we've cut back the amount of salt we add to the items we typically seasoned pretty heavily - our mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, side dishes like that," Mr. Gentry said.

"We're subtly cutting back, then listening to what our guests are saying. We're trying to get the flavor profiles a bit more neutral without being bland."

He added there's always salt and pepper on the table.

The cooks at Mount Vernon Restaurant on South Broad Street have been reducing the amount of salt in its dishes too, aiming to raise the healthful aspects of its menu, said owner Jeff Messinger.

Instead, cooks have begun using kosher and sea salts. With their reduced levels of sodium, they're good alternatives to iodized salt and still keep the dish's flavor profile intact, he added.

"The country has become aware of the fact that we have to do something about our salt intake," Mr. Messinger said. "If you can taste the salt in a dish, in my opinion, that's too much salt. There are other herbs and spices you can use to boost flavor."

Mr. Messinger said he's received very complaints about lowering the salt levels.

"Just a few customers will say they need more salt, and they can add that at the table," he said.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day for healthy people.

"For individuals with high blood pressure, kidney disease or other health problems, the recommended amount of sodium per day is often lower," Ms. Knott said.

The typical American consumes almost 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily.

"Many challenges arise when trying to avoid excess sodium while dining out." Ms. Knott said. "Avoid using the salt at the table and taste your food prior to using the salt shaker. You might find that you enjoy the taste of the food without the additional sodium."