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Wine, Salt, and Your Heart: Confusion Abounds

Survey Shows Many Americans Misunderstand the Effects of Wine and Salt on Heart Health

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 26, 2011 -- Most Americans believe that drinking red wine is good for the heart but may not fully understand that failure to limit the amount they drink could lead to serious health problems, according to a new survey by the American Heart Association (AHA).

What's more, most people also mistakenly believe that sea salt is a good low-sodium alternative to table salt, the survey shows.

The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted to help the AHA gauge American perceptions about wine and sodium consumption as those substances relate to heart health.

The AHA says drinking of any type of alcohol should be limited to no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women. That's about 8 ounces of wine for men and 4 ounces for women.

How Heavy Drinking Affects Health

The AHA says in a statement that heavy and regular drinking of alcohol -- whether wine, beer, or spirits -- can dramatically increase blood pressure, cause heart failure, lead to stroke and other health problems, and contribute to high triglycerides, alcoholism, suicide, accidents, and obesity.

It's true, the AHA says, that limited wine intake seems to be good for the heart, and 76% of people surveyed knew that.

However, only 30% of those questioned were aware of the AHA's recommended limits for daily wine drinking.

"This survey shows that we need to do a better job of educating people about the heart-health risks of overconsumption of wine, especially its possible role in increasing blood pressure," says AHA spokesman Gerald Fletcher, MD, a professor of medicine-cardiovascular diseases at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, Fla.

Salt Confusion

When it comes to salt, the survey suggests most people may be confused about low-sodium food choices.

For example, 61% of respondents agreed, incorrectly, that sea salt is a low-sodium alternative to table salt. In reality, kosher salt and most sea salt are chemically the same as table salt, containing 40% sodium, and thus count the same toward total sodium consumption.

Also, 46% of those surveyed said table salt is the primary source of sodium in American diets, which is wrong.

As much as 75% of the sodium consumed by Americans comes from processed foods such as soups, condiments, canned foods, prepared mixes, and tomato sauce.

The AHA recommends eating no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily and advises Americans to read nutrition and ingredient labels carefully.

Read the Food Label

Sodium compounds are present whenever food labels include the words "soda" and "sodium" and the chemical symbol "Na," the AHA says.

"High-sodium diets are linked to an increase in blood pressure and a higher risk for heart disease and stroke," Fletcher says. "You must remember to read the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list on food and beverages."

Other key findings of the survey:

  • People who drink wine are no more likely to know the AHA's recommended limits than nondrinkers.
  • 73% of adults say they drink wine. Knowledge of the AHA's recommended limits seems to increase with age.
  • 87% of wine drinkers say wine is good for the heart, compared to 51% of respondents who don't drink.
  • 59% of respondents said they knew their blood pressure numbers and 25% said they had high blood pressure. Of those who said they had high blood pressure, 80% knew their numbers.
  • Only 24% of respondents were knowledgeable about the AHA's recommended limits for daily sodium consumption.
  • 69% understood that people often can't tell by the way they feel or look whether they have high blood pressure.
  • About 95% of respondents indicated they knew they could reduce their risk for high blood pressure.

SOURCES: News release, American Heart Association.High Blood Pressure 2011, Communications Research.

©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.





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