Salt: The No. 1 Health Enemy?

Julia Little  |  June 12, 2013

Many people know that too much sodium isn't good for them, but a breakthrough study conducted by Yale School of Medicine's Dr. David Hafler and investigators from across the globe recently showed that there may be a clear link between the salty stuff and autoimmune diseases.

These illnesses, which affect more than 20 million Americans, may be caused by too much sodium chloride in the body. In the study, which was published online recently in Nature, Hafler and his colleagues found that individuals who had higher concentrations of sodium chloride also had higher productions of substances that play a crucial role in the development of autoimmune diseases. 

Autoimmune diseases include illnesses such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and about 80 others. These conditions are characterized by inflammation, which causes swelling, pain, muscle aches and sometimes fever when they first appear, according to WomensHealth,gov and the National Institute of Health. Some organizations have noted salt's effect on other diseases, too. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that an excess of sodium in foods can increase risk of heart disease and stroke. 

In fact, the AHA has recently coined "the salty six," a handful of common foods that are dangerously high in sodium when eaten in excess. Some, such as cured meats, are obvious, but others, like breads and rolls, may be less known for their sodium content. 

The organization reports that cold cuts, cured meats and pizza can have as much as half the recommended daily value of sodium in just one serving, and recommends individuals look for low-sodium versions of their favorite lunch meats and load pizzas with veggies while minimizing salty cheese. Breads and rolls, which many people tend to eat a lot of in one day, contain sodium too, so consuming them several times a day can add up to a high amount of salt. Sandwiches prepared with processed bread and cold cuts can contain as much as 100 percent of the daily recommended value of sodium, so the organization recommends choosing half a sandwich and salad when eating out.

In addition to bread, cold cuts, pizza and sandwiches, the AHA reports that poultry and soup round out the salty six. Poultry's sodium content depends on how it was prepared, so the organization recommends choosing wisely - unprocessed chicken as opposed to a rotisserie, for instance. One cup of canned soup also often contains more than half your recommended daily value, so the AHA recommends seniors and elder care providers look for lower-sodium options or make their own to lower the salt content. 

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