While recent government initiatives have eliminated trans fats and have us eating more whole grains, two villains hidden in prepared foods have been relatively quiet on the media radar. More often than not, too much salt and sugar are hidden in recipes and prepared foods.
Some salt is needed for normal functioning, but the American Heart Association recommends that you cap your intake at 1,500 mg of sodium (salt) per day. That’s 500 calories per meal, not allowing for snacks.
But within a meal, one item—a sauce or a prepared vegetable—can contain more than 500 mg of salt. That’s why the average American’s salt intake is more than twice the recommended limit: 3,436 mg sodium daily.
Even good recipes and good restaurants can use too much salt. Prepared foods are overly laden with it—just read the labels.
Dr. David Katz, founder/director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, recommends a 1:1 ratio of sodium to calories. If the ratio is higher, the food has too much sodium. Most people’s recommended daily calorie intake is around 2,000 calories, so the formula provides more salt than the American Heart Association recommends. But it’s still less than what most of us consume!
What’s Wrong With Sodium?
Too much sodium can increase blood pressure, for starters. The Mayo Clinic explains why “just a pinch” of salt here and there adds up to unhealthy levels. Even if you feel young and healthy, you may want to take notice now.
It’s not difficult to make small adjustments. So we’re passing on these tips from John Bosse, of USANA Health Sciences:
2. Savor the flavor. Flavor food with spices and herbs instead of salt. Use chile, curry, garlic, lemon and lime juices, onions, oregano, paprika, pepper, vinegar, wine and other favorites. THE NIBBLE’s favorite addition to savory dishes is fresh herbs—from basic parsley to fragrant fresh basil.
3. Consider a sub. Lite salts and salt substitutes offer an alternative that, when used in place of salt, will lower sodium intake and increase potassium intake, while still providing the desired saltiness. Always consult your physician before using one of these products as they are not appropriate for individuals with certain conditions or on certain medications.
4. Look for low sodium options. Look for lower sodium alternatives. Some manufacturers have created sauces and soups with half the sodium of their original recipes. Here are the differences between low sodium, reduced sodium and other terms. We also love raw almonds and other nuts; most nuts can be found without salt (see the health benefits of nuts).
5. Ask and you shall receive. Many restaurants are happy to make modifications to satisfy their customers. Many sit down restaurants can provide olive oil, vinegar, and lemon wedges as a dressing substitute; you just have to ask. Ordering pizza? Ask them to put half the amount of cheese on it. You might find the pizza still tastes just as good and probably has the same amount of cheese it would if you made your own. Not only will you have greatly reduced the sodium you consume, but also the calories and saturated fat.
6. Make a trade. We all know that fruits and vegetables are healthful foods, but most of us don’t eat enough of them. Packaged snacks and deli meats are high in sodium. If you consume salty snacks, make a daily effort to sub out one with fruit—an apple, banana, orange or pear, for example. If you don’t like fruit, choose vegetable alternatives such as baby carrots. At THE NIBBLE, we make salt-free potato chips and other veggie chips in the microwave, using this clever device. Swap out processed cereal for a bowl of sodium-free oatmeal (not the instant kind, which has added salt).
7. Switch the sandwich. If you enjoy a daily sandwich, in most cases, cooked chicken or turkey breast will be lower in sodium than ham and other deli meats. To change it up, use different condiments and salad vegetables, and look for pickles and other pickled vegetables that are low in sodium (or make your own—it couldn’t be easier).
8. Tip the potassium balance. Professional consensus supports aiming to consume potassium at roughly double the recommended sodium intake. Be sure to eat foods that are rich in potassium, such as low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and unsalted or low-salt nuts and seeds. These are also solid sources of calcium and magnesium. Potassium, along with calcium and magnesium, help to rid the body of excess sodium.
If You Use Salt, Use The Tastiest Salt
Check out our Salt Glossary. While all salts have similar sodium and nutritional values,* sea salts and other culinary salts have more flavor than refined sea salts.
*Sea salts have trace minerals that are removed from refined table salt.
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