I was sitting at a restaurant the other day, waiting for my food to arrive, when I noticed the couple sitting next to us. Their food had just arrived and before the waiter could ask if they needed anything else, they both grabbed the saltshaker.
I wonder if we’ve become so conditioned to adding salt before tasting our food that it is just a habit, and how many people just add salt without any thought to how their food actually tastes?
We’ve all heard the message from various health organizations to cut down on salt. A gut reaction might be why and it is really necessary?
Salt enhances the flavor of many foods, and masks the bitterness in others, which is why it’s been the spice of choice for thousands of years. In many recipes if salt is abruptly removed, the food can tastes bland, or simply boring.
According to the Center for Disease Control, reducing your sodium consumption can lower you risk of heart disease. Their statistics show that if Americans lowered their sodium consumption by 1200 mg. per day, it would save the country a staggering 20 billion dollars in medical costs! In addition, it is estimated that a reduction of sodium by 1000-2000 mg. per day could save 50,000 American lives per year.
How is this possible? When you consume more sodium, the body’s compensates by retaining water. This extra water enters the circulatory system and forces the heart to work harder to pump the extra fluid around the body, which can increase blood pressure.
So what can one do since taste is essential to our food? Let’s break it down:
- Start with lowering your intake of processed food.
Statistics show 75% of our salt intake comes from food processing: prepackaged, convenience food such as frozen foods, crackers, chips, baked goods, salad dressing, condiments, and Asian sauces. Don’t be fooled by the misleading sodium content on the back of labels. Always make sure when looking at labels to take into consideration the serving size, and multiply the sodium content by the servings to obtain a true intake value.
- Next reconsider using that saltshaker.
The type of salt (kosher, sea or rock) is similar in how it affects the body by increasing in water retention, which can affect blood pressure. However, if you are using salt, kosher or sea salt are better choices due to other natural minerals and slightly less sodium content. To put the serving size of sodium into perspective:
- ¼ teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
- ½ teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
- ¾ teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
Using less salt than usual and substituting alternative spices can be enough of a shift to start the process of decreasing your sodium intake.
What is the saving grace in all this?
With lowering your intake of sodium, blood pressure can start changing within a few weeks. How’s that for immediate payoff?
So don’t I need a certain minimum level of sodium per day?
Sodium is needed only in small amounts – about 500 mg per day – to keep our bodies working properly. This equates to less than ⅛ – ¼ of a teaspoon for an entire day. Yet American’s consume sodium in excess of 3400 mg per day! That’s well over 600% equating to about 1½ teaspoons per day or a ¼ cup per week.
How much should you consume?
The recommended sodium intake for adults is between 1,500-2,300 mg, well below the 3,400 mg. If you consumed a “no added salt” diet with more spices and minimal processed food you would be close to on target. Since only 12% of our salt intake is inherently in food, eating unprocessed real whole foods makes it easy!
The bottom line is how can you still enjoy the taste of food AND reduce your sodium intake?
To find out the solution check out next weeks blog, “Seasoning without Salt, can it be done?”
This part two blog will introduce alternative spices, adding delicious flavor to all types of food. The goal is to make it as easy and painless as possible so you won’t be like that couple at the restaurant reaching for the saltshaker and experience the true taste of food!
This blog was co-written by Susan Dopart and RD Intern Victoria Sonoda