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Reduce Salt Intake by Using Spices and Herbs

Update Date: Mar 19, 2014 04:08 PM EDT

Too much salt consumption can lead to hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases one's risk of heart disease and many other conditions. Even though people are aware of the dangers of high blood pressure, making drastic diet changes can be difficult. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of teaching people how to replace salt with herbs and spices and discovered that this type of education can successfully reduce salt intake.

For this two-phase study, the researchers examined the effects of consuming different levels of salt. In the first part of the study, 55 participants were given a low-sodium diet to follow for four weeks. The new diet reduced sodium intake from 3,450 mg per day to 1,656 mg per day. The researchers gave all foods and calorie-containing beverages to the participants. Roughly 60 percent of the people had hypertension, 18 percent had diabetes and were overweight.

In the second phase of the study, half of the participants received a 20-week behavioral intervention program that taught them how to replace salt with spices and herbs. The other half was instructed to reduce their sodium intake on their own. The researchers found that both groups ended up eating more sodium during the second phase of the study. However, the intervention group consumed an average of 966 mg per day less than the control group.

"People in the intervention group learned problem-solving strategies, use of herbs and spices in recipes, how culture influences spice choices, how to monitor diet, overcoming the barriers to making dietary changes, how to choose and order foods when eating out and how to make low-sodium intake permanent," said Cheryl A. M. Anderson, Ph.D., M.P.H., lead author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California San Diego. "Salt is abundant in the food supply and the average sodium level for Americans is very high - much higher than what is recommended for healthy living. We studied the use of a behavioral intervention where people learn how to use spices and herbs and less salt in their daily lives."

She added, "Given the challenges of lowering salt in the American diet, we need a public health approach aimed at making it possible for consumers to adhere to an eating pattern with less salt. This intervention using education and tasty alternatives to sodium could be one solution."

The study was presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention Nutrition, Physical Activity & Metabolism Scientific Sessions 2014.

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