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Sea salt confuses Americans, but then, so does wine

April 26, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey
  • From left, black salt, Iblea sea salt, Alaea sea salt, extra fine salt, Fleur de Sel de Guerande (center), and Celtic sea salt. Choose your variety. It's all salt.
From left, black salt, Iblea sea salt, Alaea sea salt, extra fine salt, Fleur… (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles…)

 Sea salt is not a low-sodium version of table salt, but 61% of Americans believe it is.

Further, while most Americans believe (perhaps accurately, in this regard) that drinking wine is good for the heart, they don’t know the recommended limits. Such are the results from an American Heart Assn. poll meant to assess how much adults know about the risk factors for high blood pressure.

The survey of 1,000 results had at least one encouraging finding—59% of Americans know their blood pressure numbers.

Now to work on what might affect those numbers…

About 76% of Americans said wine is good for the heart -- and medical evidence does tend to point in that direction, though it’s far from conclusive. 

But whether moderate wine drinking is heart-protective or just neutral (excessive drinking is widely regarded as a bad idea), only about 30% of adults know the heart association has recommended daily limits on wine. The association's position on drinking to your health:

“If you drink any alcohol, including wine, beer and spirits, the American Heart Association recommends that you do so in moderation. Limit consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.”

When it comes to wine, the association says that amounts to eight ounces of wine for men, four ounces for women. The American Dietary Guidelines defines it as five ounces of wine.

But back to the salts. We’re not sure how the American people started believing that sea salt was a diet version of table salt, but we suspect their tendency to equate “natural” with “better for you” has something to do with it. To that way of thinking, anything with the word “sea” must be more natural.

Both table salt and sea salt are mostly sodium chloride, a naturally occurring chemical combination of sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl), familiar elements on the periodic table.

Table salt is dug from underground mines, while sea salt is evaporated from—you guessed it—sea water. Sea salt may have a slightly different flavor and color because of trace amounts of other minerals found in seawater, including sulfate, magnesium and calcium, but its main ingredient is still sodium chloride. Further, table salt often has some iodine added to prevent iodine deficiency, as well as anti-caking agents.

Still, salt is salt. If you want to sprinkle something low in sodium on your food, go for one of those herb blends.

In the same survey, 46% thought table salt is the primary source of sodium in American diets. Actually, most sodium that Americans consume—about 75%--comes from processed foods, soups and canned foods.

About one-quarter of adults know the daily recommended sodium limit for most people is 1,500 milligrams—a fraction that doesn’t impress the American Heart Assn.

Health experts urge cutting back on sodium to lower blood pressure. The National Institutes of Health has a few tips for reducing salt in your diet:

-Buy fresh vegetables, or check for no-salt-added frozen or canned vegetables

-Rinsed canned foods to remove some sodium

-Cook with seasoning blends that have no salt added

-Use fresh poultry and meat, not canned or processed

And of course, watch the amount of salt you shake on your food. But feel free to use whichever salt tastes better.

RELATED: Food companies sign up for war on salt

healthkey@tribune.com

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