Reducing salt intake has become a focus of many health campaigns. Why should we reduce it in our food? Salt (sodium chloride) is a main seasoning for most people. However, sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, which is a major source of heart disease and stroke. We each have the choice and power to reduce our chances for health issues, which can be extremely debilitating or even cause death.
Have a Heart
The American Heart Association suggests 1,500 milligrams (mg) or less per day. To put that into perspective, 2,300 mg is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt. The average sodium consumption in the U.S. is around 3,300 milligrams per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more than double of the recommendation by the AHA. If we continue to have high amounts of salt in our diets, some studies have indicated that 90% of Americans will develop high blood pressure during their lifetime. This can lead to a potentially life-threatening heart attack or stroke.
Sources of Our Sodium
So where does all this salt come from? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American diet gets its sodium in the following ways:
– 5% is added during cooking
– 6% is added during eating
– 12% is naturally occurring in some foods
– 77% comes from processed/packaged and restaurant food
Shake It Up and Make Some Changes
What can you do about it? The good news is that you can take some simple steps that will quickly have a positive impact on your health!
- Follow the DASH way of eating: DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (high blood pressure). It encourages the reduction of sodium in your diet by eating a variety of plant-based foods instead of processed foods that come in a box, bag or can. Choose fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Pick fruits and vegetables from the color of the rainbow, such as red apples, oranges, cantaloupe, purple eggplant, carrots, yellow squash and many others. Organic for soft-skinned produce when possible is best. For nuts and seeds, choose unsalted walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, etc. Raw is most nutritious, but if you like a crunch, get roasted. And just about a handful is plenty for a day’s serving. Its good fat, but you don’t want to overdo it.
- Be aware of hidden sodium: In my last article about eating out at restaurants, I mentioned that food served at restaurants can be very high in sodium. Therefore, try to prepare food at home as much as possible. Then you know what’s in your food and it can save you money too. For example, I recently ordered some grilled vegetable tacos at a restaurant and it sounded pretty healthy. Luckily, I asked how was prepared and requested that they leave out the teriyaki sauce when grilling. This simple request cut out a lot of sodium which was listed as 1,750 mg on the restaurant’s website. That’s more than the daily recommendation in just one meal! Also, take a little extra time in the grocery store to read labels when you do buy some processed foods. One can of soup can have 1,000 mg of sodium for a serving size of just one cup. Therefore, choose some alternatives such as “no salt added” or “low sodium” versions. Even breads and cereals often have sodium added for taste and as a preservative.
- Spice it up: Sometimes it can be a habit to pick up the salt shaker and add salt to foods without even tasting it first. Put the salt shaker in the cupboard for a week and use different no-salt spice blends such as 21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joe’s or other no-salt alternatives. Experiment and try some fresh garlic, cilantro or basil. You’ll be surprised that you don’t miss the salt, and food can taste even better when it’s not drowned in salt, and when other seasonings or herbs are used.
- Technology can help too: When you do go out to eat, take a look at the restaurant’s online menu before going, and look at the nutrition information. Most places list detailed information through their website now. If you’re unable to locate it, call or email the restaurant and they’ll be happy to provide a link. Also, there are some great smart phone apps, such as Sodium One or Sodium Tracker to make it easy to keep a running tally of your salt intake for the day. A good tip from Marilyn Tanner-Blasair, a Registered Dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, suggests to “treat sodium like it’s money and you’re on a budget.” Divvy it up sensibly throughout the day and keep track of your balance.
Take your health to heart, and by following some of these simple steps you can lower your risk for high blood pressure and other issues. You can see a change in just a few weeks with some modifications. Get your blood pressure checked if you’re not aware of your numbers and share this information with your friends and loved ones. Together we can help one another live healthier, longer and happier lives!
By Nancy Goldstein, Certified Nutritional Consultant. Follow me on Twitter @NancyGoldstein4