The average person in the U.S. consumes about 3,500 milligrams of sodium a day. That’s more than twice the maximum recommended amount for people 40 and older, and anyone with high blood pressure. And it’s one-third more than the 2,300 mg maximum recommended for everyone else.
Where does it come from? Why does it matter? What can you do about it? All relevant questions – so read on for some straightforward, simple answers and solutions!
According to research and editorial commentary published in the British Medical Journal “the importance of the association between excess salt intake and raised blood pressure – leading, in turn, to strokes and coronary heart disease – cannot be overstated”. Since nearly 77% of the salt in the U.S. diet comes from packaged foods, the good news is that major food manufacturers, like ConAgra and Unilever, are making commitments to reduce sodium in their products. Other companies and some restaurants are following suit. But salt appears to damage the heart and blood vessels beyond it’s impact on blood pressure. High blood pressure damages the kidneys, and salt may make it worse. High-salt diets increase calcium losses in urine, which might well have an impact on osteoporosis. High blood pressure can thicken the muscles in the chamber of the heart that pumps blood throughout the body, causing left ventricular hypertrophy. And stiff arteries, often an early sign of heart disease, appear to be more prevalent in people with higher salt diets. More research is coming on the ill effects of too much salt.
Sodium sensitivity is somewhat fickle. African-Americans have a much higher sensitivity, and so do post-menopausal women. But everyone can benefit from exercise (which lowers blood pressure), losing weight (improving the ability of insulin to ferry sugar from the blood into the body’s cells and lowering blood pressure in those who have elevated numbers) and drinking moderately, if at all (heavy drinking can sharply raise blood pressure).
Additionally, following these simple suggestions can yield tangible benefits:
- Cut back on canned soups and meats, cold cuts, frozen meals and prepackaged salad dressings. Avoid brined or salt-dried foods.
- Rinse canned beans, vegetables and tuna to remove surface salt and the canning liquid, which is where most of the sodium can be found.
- Limit the use of condiments like soy sauce, barbecue sauce and marinades, unless they have lower sodium values (preferably under 300 mg/serving). Instead, choose high-acid (thus tenderizing) citrus juices, vinegars and alcohol to soften and flavor meat and poultry, along with fresh herbs and garlic.
- Read food labels and look for products that have no more than 140 mg of sodium per serving, the amount that’s considered low sodium by the FDA.
- Use salt and sugar free herbs and spices, like the ones that I use for our clients at NutriFit! I have designed six sensational seasonings, our own proprietary spice blends, and they’re available online.
- Consume no more than one food per day containing 480 mg of sodium or more per serving, the limit that the FDA allows on foods labeled as healthy.
- Buy fresh vegetables or frozen ones. If choosing canned, choose “no salt added” varieties.
- Watch your medications – some that contain sodium bicarbonate can increase your overall sodium intake.
- Don’t add salt to your meals before you taste them.
- Read the labels on your fresh poultry and meat purchases. Some brands are pumped up with salt water. And check out the sodium on your fresh sausages!
The taste for salt is an acquired taste – we learn it over time. As a habit, it can be unlearned. Give yourself time to adjust to the taste of food with less salt. Reduce gradually, and use natural flavor enhancers, like lemon, as well as fresh and dried seasonings, to help provide flavor and excitement to your healthy cooking! Check out my blog and website for more ideas, recipes and products to help you shake the salt habit.