As a child and teenager, I had a huge sweet tooth and craved sweets often. As I started exercising, however, my sweet tooth turned savory. And now, I like to fondly refer to myself as a “salt hound”…craving salty foods most of the time (except after dinner). For the most part, I’m happy about this: Added sugar has tons of empty calories AND, too much added sugar in your diet is extremely bad for you. Unfortunately, too much salt consumption is no good either.
Salt, also known as sodium, is essential to our health and well being when consumed in the right amount. It is instrumental in:
- Maintaining the right balance of fluids in your body
- Transmitting nerve impulses
- Influencing the contraction and relaxation of muscles
Too much sodium, however, can contribute to health problems – namely high blood pressure – which can lead to cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. As a result, it is best to keep consumption to no more than 1,500 to 2,400 milligrams (mg) a day for healthy adults. The lower your sodium intake, the more beneficial it is to your blood pressure.
It is important to note that sodium is found in both table salt, and in processed and packaged foods. Is a matter of fact, much of the salt we consume is found in pre-packaged foods. So, it is best to watch your intake of both. In order to lower or minimize consumption, follow these tips:
- Read Nutrition Labels: Salt comes in many forms and it is important to understand the different ways it can be listed on ingredient lists. MSG, baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, and sodium nitrate all represent sodium. Further, choose foods that tend to represent less than 15% of your total daily intake of sodium.
- Purchasing Foods: When possible, choose fresh, whole foods. Whole foods do not contain any added salt or sodium. If, however, you do purchase foods that are canned, processed or packaged, always look for low-sodium or low-salt options. Also, try to cut out pre-mixed or prepared foods such as sauces, frozen pizzas, frozen dinners, frozen foods in general…as they all tend to be high in sodium.
Here are some specifics:
- Vegetables: When buying veggies, make sure to buy them fresh as much as possible. If you do buy your vegetables frozen, make sure to check the ingredients for any sodium or salt.
- Meats: Whenever possible, buy only fresh meat, fish or poultry. Processed and canned meats tend to have a lot of salt or sodium. Also, avoid cured and smoked meats.
- Cold-Cuts: Cold-cuts are notorious for being high in sodium or salt. If you purchase cold-cuts always opt for those varieties that are low in sodium.
- Canned Soups: Buy and consume canned soups, broths or bouillon sparingly. Try making your own.
- Nuts: Avoid salted nuts and instead, opt for those that are unsalted.
- Salad Dressings and Condiments: Many condiments and dressings are high in sodium. Some of the worst offenders include soy sauce, teriyaki, barbecue and ketchup.As a result, try making your own or using those that are lower in sodium.
- Get Spicy: Experiment with spices other than salt for flavoring meals and dishes. Pepper, curry, paprika, oregano, parsley, thyme, rosemary all give dishes wonderful flavor.Low-Sodium
- Using Salt: If you need to salt while cooking, add the salt at the end; you will need to add much less. The longer food cooks, the more salty flavor is diluted. Salting food at the end, however, allows the salt flavor to be the top layer.
- Cookbooks: Try low-sodium cookbooks to help you cook with less salt. Some to try include:
Remember, you can retrain your taste buds. Cutting out salt, little by little will allow you to get used to the flavor of having less salt and as a result, will help your body crave less salt.
Do you know how much salt and sodium you are getting in your diet? Have you tried cutting back?
Originally published in 2010