Most people think of healthy diets as those with fewer calories and less saturated fat and sugar. But not so many are aware that they are eating too much salt. On average, an adult in the U.S. now consumes about 3,400 milligrams, about one and a half teaspoons, of sodium each day, while health experts recommend no more than 1,500 milligrams of salt a day, or two-thirds of one teaspoon.
Where does all that sodium come from?
More than 75 percent of sodium in our diets comes from processed foods, junk snacks, soda pop, and restaurant foods. Even fresh meats, especially pork and poultry, are injected with sodium. The rest is the result of over salting during food preparation or use of the table salt shaker. While sea salt is often recommended because of its mineral content, it has the same amount of sodium as table salt and kosher salt.
What can we do?
- Salt in the diet, in general, is linked to the number of calories consumed, so eating less food is one way to lower sodium intake.
- Eating an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, and (unsalted, please) nuts provide potassium and magnesium, minerals that reduce the effects of sodium and lower blood pressure.
- Read food nutrition labels. Watch for foods that, per serving, contain no more than 15% of daily sodium allowance. Try to eat the amount mentioned on the label as one serving. Eating a bigger serving will increase your salt intake. Disodium phosphate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium alginate, sodium nitrate (or nitrite), and sodium benzoate are also salts.
- Eat at home and prepare your meals with as much unprocessed food as possible. Fast food places and even better restaurants put large amounts of salt in their food. On those occasions when you eat at a restaurant, ask the chef to hold the salt on your entrée and side dishes.
- Kill the craving. Stop eating salty foods for just a little while, and likely as not you’ll find that your cravings start to disappear. Hide the salt shaker in the cabinet – thereby thwarting the temptation to reach for it. Yes, we can train our taste buds. Each taste bud has about 100 receptor cells, and each cell lives about 2 weeks. Then the cell is replaced. When you consistently cut back on sodium for two weeks, your taste buds will adjust to their new reality and be perfectly satisfied with less salty foods.
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of filtered water a day. Carry your own small thermos of water when you go out. If you must drink bottled water, choose a low sodium one.
- Halve the amount of salt that your recipes suggest, and add salt near the end of the cooking process or just before eating. Seasoning will still be detected but less salt will have penetrated into food. Lemon juice activates the same taste buds as salt. Other non-salty seasonings include: herbs - fresh and dried – especially fresh pressed garlic, red and black pepper, and chili powder. Add hot sauce or salsa at the table - this also heightens taste without so much salt.
- Dilute the sodium in foods. For example, start with the canned soup as a base and then add fresh or frozen vegetables such as potatoes, celery, onions, greens, and carrots. You’ll have more soup and a less sodium per serving. Canned vegetables, beans and pre-made salads are also often salty. They can be drained and rinsed removing a lot of salt. Add about half of the flavoring packets to packaged macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles and mix vegetables with these foods. Wash sodium from the surface of canned olives and pickles.
Recipe for a reduced sodium seasoning
Some commercial reduced salt seasonings are really excellent but they tend to have big price tags. Others are cheaper but contain some chemical ingredients. So, preparing healthy seasonings at home makes sense. Here’s my recipe for basic seasoning made from all natural ingredients - guaranteed to spice up your meals, while cutting your salt use in half. Use it for cooking and keep a shaker of it on hand (but not on the table), when someone needs a bit more seasoning on their food. You can also make up some extra batches and fill pretty glass or ceramic canisters with your seasoned salt to give as gifts. Your friends and family will appreciate it.
1/2 cup ground sea salt
2 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp ground black or cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)
1 Tbsp dried parsley flakes
1 Tbsp ground dried grated lemon peel
1 Tbsp turmeric
Options: Less or more of any of the above, along with the amounts you choose of kelp (for natural iodine), onion salt, dill weed, celery seed, oregano, sage, etc.
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight glass or ceramic container. Makes 1 cup. Use within six months.
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