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Dr. Leanne Watson-Ficken, St. Luke's Hospital

DASH program can help women concerned about salt intake

Most people know high-sodium food when they see it, right? Unfortunately, most don't consider some cereals, cottage cheese and canned vegetables to be high in salt. This is a misconception that can lead to high salt intake along with high blood pressure, heart disease, heart failure, kidney disease and stroke.

This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study showing that 90 percent of all Americans consume more than the daily recommended amount of salt. Specifically, the average American consumes about 3,300 milligrams of salt daily - about 1,000 mg more than the U.S. Dietary Guidelines of 2,300 mg per day. Although not as high as the overall average, about 83 percent of women consume more salt per day than is recommended.

Salt is a necessary component of the body, helping it to perform and function properly. But too much salt can create health problems. The salt we consume is not just the kind found in the kitchen cabinet. Salt is typically consumed through foods like bread, lunch meat, pizza, soup, cheese, pasta and meat dishes. Of course, snack foods such as potato chips, pretzels and popcorn also pack quite a bit of salt.

Pregnant women should pay particular attention to their salt intake. Researchers who published a study in the American Journal of Physiology - Renal Physiology found too much or too little salt in a pregnant woman's diet can negatively affect a baby's kidney development as well as lead to high blood pressure for the baby.

One option for those concerned about their salt intake is to follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating program. The plan stresses the importance of not only lowering salt intake to help lower blood pressure numbers, but it also focuses on limiting cholesterol, saturated fat and total fat. It encourages diets high in fruits and vegetables, fiber and low-fat dairy products.

Another option would be to replace salt with salt-free spices in your meals and add potassium to your diet to help counter salt's effect on blood pressure.

Dr. Leanne Watson-Ficken is board-certified in internal medicine and is NCQA certified in diabetic care. Call 636-561-6011.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on March 21, 2013.