First the basic facts:
Salt is good.
We need salt. It helps maintain the fluid in our blood cells and is vital in transmitting information to nerves and muscles.
Salt helps preserve food. It inhibits the growth of food-borne pathogens.
Salt enhances the flavor of foods.
and you knew this was coming,
we consume more than twice as much salt as we need.
When your body has too much sodium your kidneys can’t eliminate it and it accumulates in your blood. It holds water, which increases your blood volume, which makes your heart work harder to pump it through your body. This increases your blood pressure. Not good.
Most experts now recommend that we consume 1,500mg of sodium per day. Our average consumption is much closer to 3,500mg per day. As much as 75% of that is salt ADDED to our food by the manufacturers! Some key groups are working to drastically reduce the use of salt in food production over the next ten years. In the meantime we have two choices- eat food that is as close to natural as possible and read labels to cut down on our consumption of added salt.
A few weeks ago my husband and I were eating at a local buffet when a young family sat down at the table next to us. I watched as the father got a plate of macaroni and cheese, salted it, and handed it to his young daughter. This is how our need for salt begins. His daughter’s taste buds have already adjusted to and now expect that “highly salted” flavor in foods. I see adults add salt to French fries, hamburgers, pizza, and other dishes that already have far too much salt. We have to kick the habit!
So the first thing we need to do is throw away our salt shakers. Quit filling them. Quit using them. I haven’t added salt to anything in years, decades. I don’t even buy salt. I don’t miss it or even think about. Most foods have their own flavor! However, if you have been using a lot of salt for many years, you may be surprised by the “real” taste of your favorite foods. Research shows that it will take about ten weeks for your taste buds to adjust to the change. Yes, that’s some serious time and effort, but it is well worth it.
Label reading can help you make significant changes in your diet, especially in sodium intake. The little sandwich rounds I’ve raved about have 80 fewer calories and 100mg less sodium than the hamburger buns I usually eat. The whole wheat tortillas I eat have 340mg of sodium vs. the 490 contained in white flour tortillas. This is the kind of “diet tweaking” that can make a big difference in your daily totals. WebMD shows the range of sodium content in frozen pizza varies from 450mg to 1200mg! (my favorite is 740mg) Frozen veggies can differ by as much as 100mg.
If you want to do a little pre-shopping planning, try this link to the sodium content of various foods. Scroll down to the Nutrient Database for Sodium. You can look at either the alphabetical listing or the descending order list. Believe me, the descending order one is shocking! We probably shouldn’t eat anything listed on pages 1-5!
I also did a little searching for the sodium content of various foods by brand. I won’t vouch for the accuracy of these numbers since they are taken from other sites and might be outdated or contain errors, but they are probably close enough to warrant careful label reading if you actually have these in your home!
Swanson, Hungry Man Boneless White Meat Fried Chicken Dinner- 2,160mg of sodium
Post Honey Bunches of Oats cereal-642mg of sodium
Oscar Mayer Ham-baked, sliced, 96% fat free- 1,242mg of sodium
Louis Rich turkey and chicken franks- 1,136mg of sodium
Pillsbury Grands Buttermilk biscuits (refrigerator roll)- 992mg of sodium
And of course the worst place to find extra salt is in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant. This is where we REALLY get into trouble because most of us don’t know or ASK about the sodium content of our favorite restaurant foods. Chili’s Awesome Blossom onion made Men’s Health Magazine’s “20 Worst Foods” list, and rightfully so. It has 6,360mg of sodium!!! An On the Border Taco Salad packs a whopping 2,410mg of sodium. Feeding the kids? Macaroni Grill’s Double Macaroni and Cheese has 3,450mg of sodium. I love burgers, but the Carl’s Jr. Six Dollar Cheeseburger has 2,450mg of sodium. Go for the Western Bacon version and it jumps to 2,520mg! McDonald’s Angus Bacon and Cheese isn’t much better at 2,070mg. Think I’ll cook mine at home- a frozen Angus beef patty has 100mg of sodium. Feeling smug because you eat at Subway?? The six-inch Spicy Italian Toasted Sub has 1,850mg of sodium and the six-inch ham may have “6 grams of fat or less” but it also has 1,200mg of sodium.
So…what in the world are we supposed to do with all of this information? Panic? Clean everything out of the pantry? Stop eating out? I plan to just make better choices. Tonight I had the choice of two salad dressings and I used the one that has 220mg of sodium instead of the one that has 360mg. If I want to eat out I’ll choose a restaurant that offers variety and try to eat something better than the blossom!! Moderation has to be our mantra because our minds and bodies rebel at sudden drastic changes and then we go right back to doing what we were doing before. It takes months to replace a bad habit with a good one.
Read those labels this week. Make a few small changes. Make a few better choices. Next week we’ll talk about sugar.
Note: Lately I’ve seen a lot of labels and claims for sea salt. It has fans that prefer it over regular salt because of its texture, taste and trace minerals. However, from everything that I have read it is NOT better for your blood pressure.