Easy Ways to Lower Your Sodium Intake, the Sneaky Ways Salt Hides –– and One Surprisingly Salty Food You Thought Was Healthy
Any cooks out there “worth their salt” in the kitchen?
If that’s you, you know how to wield the magic of this crushed rock to make food shine. A few shakes here and salt messes with the proteins in a rib eye to enhance the meat’s natural flavor. A few shakes there and salt mellows the bitterness of a citrus-forward dish or drink. (Salt-brimmed margaritas, anyone?) And when that roasted chicken comes out dry as a bone…much is forgiven with a few more shakes of salt.
Salt just makes food taste better.
Salt Keeps Us Alive…Then it Doesn’t
Every cell of your body contains sodium. The salt you consume is helping your muscles scroll down the page of this blog, and your brain read and understand the message. Salt balances your fluids and can maintain healthy blood pressure.
But salt can quickly turn deadly.
Experts say we’re overdosing on salt and that’s spiking the number of deaths attributed to the nation’s number one killer, heart disease. Too much sodium triggers high blood pressure, which is linked to heart failure, stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, fluid retention, even osteoporosis and cataracts. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration recently issued new recommendations for restaurants and food manufacturers to cut the sodium levels in their foods, and for each of us to reduce our sodium intake by at least 12%.
In this edition of the Marquis blog, we’ll share some tips from someone who is worth her salt as a master dietician for Marquis Companies. For 30 years, Corporate Dietician, Kim Bargay, RD, LD has been keeping people healthy. She’ll take you on a virtual hunt for salt in the grocery store and in your kitchen.
First, what is the new, healthier sodium level?
3,000 Mg Per Day = 1.3 Teaspoons of Salt Per Day
That’s the new number to remember and yes, that’s per day. The Food and Drug Administration says we should drop our sodium intake to about 3,000 mg every day –– 2,300 mg if you’re an over-achiever.
An easy way to visualize 3,000 mg is 1.3 teaspoons of salt or 10 of those tiny (.8g) salt packets you get from a fast food restaurant.
How Much Salt Do You Consume Now?
“Most of us are eating a lot more than 3,000 mg every day,” says Bargay. “Unless you’re following a medically restricted diet, you’re probably getting 3,400 to more than 5,000 mg of sodium daily. That’s between 1.5 and 2 teaspoons of salt every day. Now compare that to the amount of sodium we need to stay healthy, which is just 200 mg of sodium per day.”
Bargay says we can think salt-smarter by following a few easy tips:
#1 Know Where Salt Lurks in Your Grocery Store
“My number one tip for reducing your sodium level is shopping the perimeter of the grocery store,” says Bargay. “More than 70% of the sodium we consume is from pre-packaged, processed foods. Soy sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustards, mac and cheese, juices, pudding and salad dressings –– they’re all loaded with salt and they all hang out together in the interior aisles. But along the perimeter you’ll find fresh, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits and meat. So, stick to the perimeter as much as you can.”
Bargay says one surprisingly sodium-rich food is…cottage cheese.
“We don’t think of it as sodium rich but like most cheeses, cottage cheese is salty, with more than 350 mg. of sodium –– per half cup!”
#2 Be Real About Your Actual Portion Levels
Bargay says it’s important for our health to learn how to read the FDA food labels.
“When you’re scanning those labels at the store, ask yourself if you’ll really be having just one serving. Many of us don’t realize we’re eating two to three portions, rather than just one and that translates into two to three times more sodium.”
#3 Rinse Canned Foods
“Canned foods are surprisingly salty. Just one 15 ounce can of organic black beans, for instance, has 85 mg of sodium. This is one of those easy fixes. Just toss the beans into a colander and rinse that sodium down the drain or better yet, buy a bag of beans and make them yourself, sans the salt.”
#4 Pick Healthy Snacks That Let You Control the Salt Level
“Like salt free popcorn, carrots with hummus or berries with Greek yogurt.”
#5 Have Fun Experimenting with Salt Substitutes.
“We do this a lot in my kitchen. Fruits, herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, zest of lemons and limes, spicy peppers, rosemary, thyme produce all kinds of fun flavor profiles. The spices don’t have to be fresh either. The dried versions are just fine. So is another salt substitute, Mrs. Dash seasoning blends.”
#6 Don’t Put the Salt and Pepper Shakers on the Table.
“Another easy fix. See no evil. Do no evil.”
#7 Ask Restaurants for a Nutritional Analysis Sheet or Order Dishes with the Heart Symbol.
“Fast food restaurants usually have these nutrition sheets available for anyone who asks. And many of the larger chain restaurants will indicate healthier selections by placing a heart symbol next to the item on the menu.”
Tip #8 Know the Myths About Salt
Some salts are healthier: Well…those exotic, pricey salts may sometimes taste better, but Bargay says sodium is sodium. All salt is sodium chloride no matter how or where it’s mined –– China (the largest producer of salt) or Madagascar (the 67th largest producer and the US is the second largest). You still need to look at the amount of sodium listed on the packaging and apply the same daily intake level.
Salty food always tastes salty: Unless it’s a food like ham or gravy, you may not taste the salt. Let the food label be your guide.
Working out or living in a warmer climate requires more sodium: Bargay says if you’re exercising for more than an hour in hot temperatures, your electrolytes can indeed spiral out of balance and that’s when it’s okay to sip one of those sodium rich sports drinks.
You can always tell if you have high blood pressure. Some people may exhibit signs of high blood pressure – headaches or heart pounding – but most people have no indication. Get periodic checks from your doctor.
I’ll never get used to a reduced salt diet: It’s true some people crave more salt. If that’s you, Bargay says remember sodium is like sugar. You can cut back and, over time, learn to enjoy the true taste and flavors of food.
Until next time, stay healthy! Stay salty! Just without all the sodium.