How many times do you pick up the salt shaker to add salt to a recipe or to your meal, all the time thinking about the new information about too much sodium? You may have heard that reducing your sodium intake can help lower your blood pressure, which also reduces your risk of heart disease. However, most people think the majority of salt comes from the salt added to food when cooking and eating. But 80 to 90 percent of American daily sodium intake actually comes from restaurant meals or processed foods. With that in mind, there are ways to control your salt intake that are easier than you think!
Our bodies need sodium, but most of us go overboard consuming more than two to three times the recommended amount. The recommendation for sodium intake by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams per day and even less, 1,500 milligrams, for at risk-populations such as African Americans, those with hypertension and anyone over 40 years of age -- all of which together include almost 70 percent of American adults. Average daily intake is around 3,000-6,000 milligrams. With one teaspoon of salt containing about 2,300 milligrams of sodium, daily intake adds up quickly.
An easy way to decrease your salt intake is by removing the salt shaker from the dinner table. You may think you are just sprinkling a little salt on, but before you know it, you have added a day's worth of sodium. Without it within reach, you will not give yourself the option. Try the many delicious salt-free seasoning blends, herbs and rubs on the market to flavor your food, and, before long, you won't even miss the salt!
A major way you can reduce your sodium intake is by reducing processed and pre-prepared foods. Sodium is added to packaged, canned and frozen foods, not just for flavor but also as a preservative, keeping the food shelf-stable for a longer period of time. Make sure to take time in the supermarket to check food labels for terms like "low-sodium," "no salt added" and "low salt" on canned and packaged items, such as canned broth and soups, canned vegetables, prepared frozen dinners and cold cuts.
And do not just rely on taste alone to determine if a food is high in sodium, as they do not always taste salty. Reading the sodium content on the Nutrition Facts panel is the best way to be aware of how much sodium you are eating while paying special attention to serving size. Steering clear of processed foods and choosing fresh instead can drastically decrease your sodium intake. Fresh meats, legumes, unsalted nuts, dairy, fruits and vegetables all contain very little sodium, therefore making them wise choices in a low sodium diet.
This does not mean you have to give up the convenience of canned goods, but there are ways to reduce sodium while enjoying these necessity items. Beans are an excellent source of economical fiber and protein, but canned versions can be high in sodium. When you are using canned beans, make sure to choose the reduced or low-sodium versions -- if these are not available, you can also reduce their sodium by up to 40 percent by rinsing and draining the beans in a colander before eating them.
With sodium playing an important role in our overall health, from renal disease, heart disease and even stroke risk, we must remember moderation is key. By incorporating a few of these easy steps you will be on your way to spot hidden sodium so that it does not wreck havoc on your health any longer.
Holly B. Clegg, author of the trim&TERRIFIC® cookbook series and specialized diabetic and cancer cookbooks, has been writing about the relationship between food and health for two decades. Check out Holly's latest book, "Too Hot in the Kitchen," on Red Room, where you can read her blog.