If you’re a “salt” person, bear with me in this newsletter! When I ask people what their favorite snacks are, a good percentage tell me pizza, cheese, chips, pretzels, nuts, etc. This is in contrast to my “sweet” clients who crave ice cream, cookies, candy, and chocolate. Seems we’re born with innate preferences for both sweet and salty foods, but some love salty ones more than others. So what’s the problem with that? Unfortunately excess sodium is strongly associated with high blood pressure (hypertension) which leads to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.
This may be hard to believe but 1 in 3 adults in the US have hypertension and by the age of 75, 90% of us have it! Now you say “No problem! I don’t use a salt shaker or add much salt to my food.” But guess what? Only 5-7% of the sodium we eat comes from the salt shaker! The rest comes from canned, packaged, processed, and restaurant foods.
Although sodium is essential to life (it regulates the fluid balance in all of our cells), too much is killing us. The average American takes in about 4000 mg a day. So how much is recommended? The maximum recommended intake for most people is 2300 mg (about the amount in 1 teaspoon of table salt). Some experts are saying that number should be closer to 1500 mg for everyone. But the following people should seriously consider aiming for 1500 mg:
- People with hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, or kidney disease
- People over 50
- African Americans
When you start reducing your salt intake, things may taste somewhat bland…but be patient. Your palette will acclimate in just a few weeks.
If you are concerned about your health and want help with a healthier eating plan, please click here to contact me. There are many other heart healthy strategies we can discuss.
Here are some tips to help you eat less salt:
- Eat as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible.
- Use more fresh and frozen vegetables (without added sauces).
- If you use canned vegetables, look for ones labeled No Sodium Added. If you can’t find those, pour the vegetables into a strainer, rinse, and cook in fresh water.
- Use more fresh herbs and dried spices. Make your own spice mixtures (see recipe below) or look for no-salt spice mixtures like Mrs. Dash.
- Remove the salt shaker from the table.
- Don’t add salt until the end of the cooking process and only salt very lightly.
- Buy unsalted or low salt snacks, nuts, popcorn, crackers, etc.
- Read the Nutrition Facts on food labels—check the sodium content on comparable products and buy the lower salt versions whenever possible (bread products can sometimes have more salt that potato chips!)
- Canned and jarred tomato products are quite high in salt…use the No Salt versions or tomato paste (which is usually unsalted).
- Skip canned soups and chili or look for the low salt versions.
- Use unsalted vs. salted butter.
- Avoid eating lots of pickled vegetables.
- Avoid cured and processed meats like salami, bologna, ham, turkey, etc.
- Check restaurant websites for nutrition information before you go. Many are notorious for very high levels of sodium.
For some of my favorite low or no sodium products to look for at the grocery store, please click here [PDF].
Easy Make Your Own Spice Mixture
Mix together, put in a shaker, and use on meats, fish, etc.
- 2 tbs. onion powder (not onion salt)
- 2 1/2 tsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)
- 2 1/2 tsp paprika
- 2 1/2 tsp dry mustard
- 1 1/4 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp celery seed.