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How much salt does it really take to harm your heart?

August 17th, 2018

Too much salt is bad for you, particularly because it is associated with an increased risk of heart problems — but how much is too much? A new study suggests that we may not have to worry so much about how salty we like our food to be…

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Table salt, which we commonly use to season our food, contains sodium. Sodium, if often ingested in large quantities, can lead to a range of cardiovascular problems, including hypertension.

The World Health Organization (WHO) say that a person should not consume more than 2 grams of sodium per day, which is about 5 grams of salt per day.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend no more than 2.5 grams of sodium per day, though they state that the ideal intake is of no more than 1.5 grams per day for an adult.

However, researchers from a range of international institutions — including McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, both in Hamilton, Canada, as well institutions from 21 other countries — suggest that these limits are unnecessarily low.

Researcher Andrew Mente and colleagues conducted a study of 94,000 people aged 35–70, aiming to establish how much sodium really is too much for heart health.

Current guidelines, the team notes, push for standards that are unrealistic for many, seeing as salt is often an almost invisible ingredient contained by numerous packaged foods.

“The [WHO recommend] consumption of less than 2 grams of sodium — that’s one teaspoon of salt — a day as a preventative measure against cardiovascular disease,” says Mente.

He also adds, however, that “there is little evidence in terms of improved health outcomes that individuals ever achieve at such a low level.”

The new study, whose results are now featured in The Lancet, now suggests that we can be more lenient about our salt consumption without fearing that it will harm our cardiovascular health.

Slightly higher sodium intake is safe

The study followed the participants — who were based in communities across 18 different countries — for an average period of 8 years.

Mente and his colleagues revealed that a high intake of sodium did lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke — but only in communities where the average intake for an adult was greater than 5 grams per day.

This amounts to about 2.5 teaspoons of table salt, the researchers explain.

Encouragingly, the researchers also noticed that under 5 percent of the participants coming from developed countries exceeded the 5-gram cutoff point for sodium intake.

In most of the countries, the majority of the communities that the researchers observed had an average sodium intake of 3–5 grams of sodium — or 1.5 to 2.5 teaspoons of salt — per day.

In fact, of all the populations in the study, only those from China showed a consistently high intake of sodium. Specifically, 80 percent of the communities from China had a sodium intake that was higher than 5 grams per day.

“Only in the communities with the most sodium intake — those over 5 grams [per] day of sodium — which is mainly in China, did we find a direct link between sodium intake and major cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke,” Mente explains.

On the other hand, he adds, “In communities that consumed less than 5 grams of sodium a day, the opposite was the case. Sodium consumption was inversely associated with myocardial infarction or heart attacks and total mortality, and [there was] no increase in stroke.”

Community interventions can help

Even in the case of individuals who do consume too much table salt, however, the situation is not unsalvageable, the researchers say.

Mente notes that people can easily redress the balance and protect their heart health by making a few simple adjustments to their diets, such as adding more fruits, vegetables, and foods naturally rich in potassium.

“We found all major cardiovascular problems, including death, decreased in communities and countries where there is an increased consumption of potassium which is found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, potatoes, and nuts and beans,” says the study author.

Another one of the researches involved with the current study, Martin O’Donnell, notes that most of the studies looking at the relationship between sodium intake and cardiovascular risk so far have focused on individual data, rather than information collected from larger cohorts.

This, he suggests, may have skewed the best practice guidelines into a direction that is both unrealistic and perhaps too cautious.

Public health strategies should be based on best evidence. Our findings demonstrate that community-level interventions to reduce sodium intake should target communities with high sodium consumption, and should be embedded within approaches to improve overall dietary quality.”

Martin O’Donnell

“There is no convincing evidence that people with moderate or average sodium intake need to reduce their sodium intake for prevention of heart disease and stroke,” O’Donnell adds.

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5 things you should always do after exercise to speed up weight loss

Updated August 17th, 2018

As soon as you slip off your trainers after a workout, your body starts repairing the “damage” you did to your muscles. In fact, it’s actually this recovery process – not exercise itself – that makes you stronger and leaner, says exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist Dr. Stacy Sims…

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“To speed your results, research shows that what you do when you’re not exercising is nearly as important as the workout itself,” she says. Get on the fast track with these minimum-effort moves.

1. Log more Zs

We know, we know – if you could lose a kilo every time you heard about the advantages of sleep, you’d never have to work out again. But if seven to nine hours of shut-eye still isn’t a priority, here’s some incentive. Not only does deep sleep kick up production of tissue-repairing growth hormone, but studies show that lack of it is a weight-gain double whammy: It prompts your body to consume more kilojoules and shuts down its ability to recognize a full stomach.

Read more: 5 things to eat at night that’ll help you sleep way, way better

When you’re tired, your gut produces more ghrelin, a chemical that triggers sugar cravings. “It causes your body to seek quick energy from food to try to keep you awake,” says neurologist Dr. Chris Winter. Meanwhile, fatigue suppresses leptin, a fat-cell hormone that tells your brain, “Okay, stop eating now.” For this reason, says Dr. Winter, “prioritising sleep is probably the best thing you can do, recovery-wise, to meet your body-shaping goals.”

2. Get going a little

You may feel like rewarding yourself with some downtime, but doing a low-key activity the day after a big workout will prolong the muscle-sculpting perks of increased circulation. “Fresh blood flow brings fresh nutrients to your muscles and helps flush waste products like lactic acid,” says Dr. Sims. What’s more, staying active has also been proven to reduce post-exercise muscle pain and suppress nervous-system activity that can result in poor sleep.

Read more: 4 ridiculously simple stretches that do insane things for your body

Take an easy yoga class or go on a walk with friends at a conversational pace. If you’re sitting behind a desk all day, stroll around the office for about 10 minutes every couple of hours to get things moving. Then prepare for a different kind of reward: A less painful gym session tomorrow.

3. Upgrade your post-workout snack

Sports scientists have long advocated having a bite after exercising to help promote muscle repair. An even more compelling reason: Less stomach fat. Exercise activates cortisol, a stress hormone that gives you that extra surge to push until the end of spin class, says Dr. Sims. But lingering in that state for too long can backfire; cortisol not only inhibits the muscle-repair process but also alters your metabolism so that your body stores more kilojoules as fat (typically in the abdominal region) instead of burning them off.

Read more: These 3 post-workout snacks will help you refuel the right way

Luckily, chowing down on protein within 30 minutes of your workout will prevent these deleterious effects, says Dr Sims, who suggests eating a hard-boiled egg or substituting low-fat milk for the fruit juice in your smoothie. Even Vida fans are in luck: With a skinny caffè mocha, you’ll get the cortisol antidote (protein) from the milk, plus a secret weapon – caffeine. One study found that, when ingested with carbs (the chocolate in this case), caffeine increased muscles’ energy production 66% more than carbs alone.

4. Rub it out

A post-workout massage isn’t just an indulgence: Research shows that it boosts strength recovery by 60%. “Massage reduces inflammation in the tissue and increases blood flow to the area, which is what speeds up recovery,” says Dr. Sims, who recommends letting muscles cool down completely for a few hours after exercise before having a light massage.

Read more: “I tried this mix of essential oils on my sore muscles – and it actually works”

You don’t even need to see a therapist – DlY rubdowns provide the same benefits. Set aside 10 minutes before bed on days when you exercise intensely, says Dr Sims. For the best result, use long, smooth strokes over the muscles worked, and use a foam roller or massage balls on hard-to-reach spots. lf you find a knot, move slowly from the outside in, but keep the pressure light to make sure you don’t agitate an already inflamed muscle. For acute pain, apply a cold compress or ice pack for about 20 minutes to further decrease inflammation.

5. Boost your water intake

Dehydration substantially slows your metabolic rate – so even if you’re killing it at the gym, you could be negating the kilojoule-burning advantages if you aren’t drinking enough H20, says nutritional biochemist Dr. Shawn Talbott. And it’s not just the eight-glasses-a-day (or two litres) rule you’ve heard time and time again. Experts advise downing an additional 500 to 600ml of water for every hour you train. If swigging the recommended amount of water feels like a Herculean task in itself, remember that most standard bottles of water contain 500ml, so four of them (not eight) equal eight glasses.

This article was originally published on www.womenshealthsa.co.za

Image credit: iStock 

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