DEAR DR. BLONZ: I would like your help to settle an argument at a recent dinner. There seems to be such a push to restrict salt consumption in general, but the only hazard I am aware of is that salt can raise blood pressure in some people. Is there any other risk associated with salt, aside from high blood pressure? -- H.T., via email
DEAR H.T.: The main issue with excess salt intake is, as you mention, its association with high blood pressure (hypertension). But this is nothing to be dismissive about. High blood pressure currently affects roughly half of adults. It's called "the silent killer" because there are no warning signs until problems such as heart disease, stroke or kidney disease have already developed. The only reliable way to determine whether you have hypertension is to check your blood pressure regularly.
Salt and sodium are not automatically antagonistic for everyone, even those with high blood pressure. But there is no health benefit from excessive salt -- only liability. For those at high or uncertain risk about their blood pressure, it is best to keep salt to a minimum. Another point to consider is that one's sensitivity to salt, and ability to consume it safely, can change over time.
Finally, saltiness is one of our basic tastes. Salt helps to bring out the flavors in food. But the point should be to enjoy the natural flavor of foods, rather than that which comes from the salt shaker. Consider it a warning sign if you routinely reach for the shaker before you taste the food.
See b.link/2qkdb4 for more on high blood pressure.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I work with second and third graders as a student teacher. We would like to know: How do scientists determine the levels of protein and other nutrients in fruits, vegetables, meats or processed foods that contain them all? And where can I take my students to show them scientists analyzing foods? -- T.T., Chicago
DEAR T.T.: To analyze foods, representative samples are put through a series of laboratory tests that measure the amounts of macronutrients -- such as protein, fat and carbohydrate -- and micronutrients in the item. ("Macro" means larger amounts of the nutrient, whereas "micro" means smaller amounts. Read more at b.link/33chvc.) Each nutrient has its own test. Independent laboratories around the country perform these analyses, although food companies often have their own labs, as well.
You should check in your area for food manufacturers with in-house labs that offer tours. Consider creating a list of options and allowing the students to vote for their selection. I grew up in the Chicago area, and a trip like that was one of my most memorable class outings. I predict you will find companies willing to open their doors to your students.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.