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The Pleasurable Way to Cut Salt

So instead of advising people to eat less salt -- which sounds bland and boring -- maybe the better message is: Spice it up.
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There are many good reasons to add spices and herbs to your life. They add flavor, aroma, color and healthfulness; they bring with them the memories and atmosphere of faraway places.

Here's another reason to make use of your spice rack: They can help reduce salt intake.

In a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a group of men and women from Baltimore -- all of whom were at high risk and were advised to eat no more that 1500 mg of sodium daily -- were started on four-week low sodium diet in which all food and drink was supplied.

To figure out how much sodium each person consumed, rather than rely on self-reports, which are especially difficult in the case of salt, urinary sodium excretion over a day was measured, as we know the what's found in the urine represents what's in the food quite well.

And this indeed worked. Adhering to a supplied diet the participants showed a remarkable drop in the collected sodium -- from about 3500mg/day to 1650mg/day.

Maintaining a low sodium diet in the real world, in which prepared food already contain an abundance of salt, is much harder, and that's what the second phase of the study was all about. The group was divided randomly into two: In one group the participants received individual and group counseling, and were advised about the use of spices and herbs as a way to curb salt intake, and in the other participants were just given general advice about salt reduction.

Although overall the salt intake increased above the level achieved in phase 1 in both groups the first group did much better: the group receiving the behavioral intervention consumed remarkably less salt (and its urinary sodium was about 1,000 mg/day less).

Interestingly, the participants were given a blinded taste of chicken broth with 8 differing concentrations of salt -- from 0 to 1.5 percent salt -- before and after the low salt diet. After just 4 weeks on a low-salt diet the participants tasted significantly more salt in the 0 percent broth, suggesting that it doesn't take long to become sensitized to the taste of salt.

Spice it up

While the authors say they placed "particular emphasis on the use of spices and herbs," since the treatment group received several behavioral interventions, we can't give spices all the credit.

We do know that positive messaging (eat more fruit) usually feels better than hearing about what we shouldn't be doing (candy will make you fat and rot your teeth) and may be more effective.

So instead of advising people to eat less salt -- which sounds bland and boring -- maybe the better message is: Spice it up.

Dr. Ayala