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Skip the Salt for Cancer Healthy Eating

Skip the Salt for Cancer Healthy Eating

A lesser known fact is that salt can also increase risk for cancer, specifically stomach cancer.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) panel of experts found strong evidence that salt and salt-preserved foods increase the chance of developing stomach cancer. Why? High salt intake can damage the lining of the stomach.

Salted and salt-preserved foods are a substantial part of traditional Japanese and other Asian diets. In these cultures, the incidence of stomach cancer has been and still is high. Six studies have shown that there is an increased incidence but not mortality with 20 grams (0.5 serving) of salt-preserved vegetables consumed per day (28%) of 2701 cases.

The incidence of this cancer is also climbing in countries where traditional diets contain large amounts of salt (distinct from salt-preserved foods). Why? The concentration of salt in many processed foods consumed in Europe and North America approaches that of salt preserved foods.

There is strong evidence that consuming processed meat increases the risk of stomach cancer. Processed meat is meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting. Examples include ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, hot dogs and some sausages.

Our bodies need some sodium but only about 1500 milligrams (mg) per day. The recommended limit is 2300 mg/day. Yet men consume about 3000-4000 mg daily and women about 3000 mg daily. About three-fourths of the sodium comes from processed foods and foods eaten outside the home.

If you are a “salter” or accustomed to eating processed foods, it does take some time for your taste buds to adapt. Yet truly, what you begin to taste is the food, and not the salt. There are many more flavors in foods than there is in salt. So enjoy the new experience of taste.

Rock, Himalayan, Kosher, Iodized- The main difference between the salts is the taste, flavor, color, texture and convenience. The Sodium content is the same. Sodium in table salt alone:
¼ teaspoon = 600 mg sodium
1 teaspoon = 2400 mg sodium
1 teaspoon baking soda = 1000 mg sodium
1 Tablespoon soy sauce = 1000 mg sodium


Practical Tips for Cutting Salt:

  • Season foods with fresh herbs and spices, garlic and onions as well as zest from citrus fruits. These flavor agents are concentrated sources of phytonutrients the cancer fighting substances!
  • Use fresh meats for meals and sandwiches. Cook an additional portion and save for other meals.
  • Use fresh or frozen vegetables, without added sauces. Salt-preserved vegetables have lower micronutrient content than fresh vegetables.
  • Season your own rice, couscous or pasta. Do not buy pre-seasoned mixes. Do not add salt to the cooking water when cooking your own. For additional flavor, consider cooking in low-sodium broth.
  • Add salt-free vegetables, beans or grains to high sodium packaged foods. You reduce the amount of salt in each serving and boost the potassium and fiber.
  • Make your own salad dressings—tastier and often lower in calories.
  • Select food sources of probiotics that are not fermented with extra salt, such as yogurt, Kefir, sourdough bread or Kombucha. Sauerkraut, Kimchi and Miso are very high in sodium with 500 mg per ½ cup for sauerkraut and Kimchi and 640 mg of sodium in one Tablespoon of miso.
  • Taste your food before adding salt. Restaurant foods often provide more than a whole day’s worth of sodium. Be mindful when eating out.
  • Try to avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving.
  • If you can stick to whole, intact foods and ingredients such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and dairy, you’ll automatically start paring down your sodium intake. Sodium is found in high quantities in foods we shouldn’t be eating that much of to begin with: processed, packaged and fast foods!

Charis W. Spielman, MPH, RD, CSO, CNSC
Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition
Certified Nutrition Support Clinician


1World Cancer Research Fund International / American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Stomach Cancer Report 2016. Available here.

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