Salt has become a four-letter word in media headlines in recent years. No wonder. The majority of us eat way too much.
According to results from the PURE-Sodium study, presented at the 2013 European Society for Cardiology Congress in the Netherlands, out of 100,000 people in 10 countries studied, the average daily intake of sodium (the principal mineral in salt) ranged from 4,200 to 4,800 milligrams per day (mg/day) in North America, South America, and Europe, and more than 5,500 mg/day in China.
Compare this to the U.S.'s Dietary Guidelines for Americans of 2,300 mg/day for healthy people ages 14 to 50.
Even more eye-opening, consider that studies have shown healthy adults can live on as little as 115 mg of sodium daily, about the amount of sodium naturally found in 1 cup of low-fat milk or in a third of a slice of whole wheat bread.
Health problems associated with eating too much sodium read like the top causes of death around the world: high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and stomach cancer.
According to the American Heart Association, ills also potentially include kidney stones and headache. What's more, an excess of dietary sodium can also affect how you look with puffiness, bloating and weight gain.
How can you reduce your sodium intake? The best way is to know where it comes from in the diet. Surprisingly, only 11 percent of sodium in American's diet comes from adding salt to food while cooking or at the table, according to the American Heart Association. The majority, or 77
percent, comes from packaged and processed foods. The balance, or remaining 12 percent, comes from sodium that naturally occurs in foods.
A good way to exemplify this is with a tomato. One medium-sized fresh tomato provides 6 mg of sodium. Take that tomato and sprinkle it with 1/8 teaspoon of salt and the sodium soars to 306 mg. Finally, process that tomato into tomato sauce and a 1-cup serving skyrockets to 800 mg of sodium.
With this in mind, here are five tips to reduce the sodium in your diet without restricting your taste buds to bland, boring foods. Reducing the sodium in your diet doesn't mean eating bland boring foods.
1. Use plenty of natural flavor. This means going heavier handed on fresh herbs and spices and savory ingredients such as onions and garlic. Using the juice of lemons and limes, plus their zest, can make a food taste saltier than it really is. Don't be afraid to turn on the heat. Hot peppers add flavor. Plus, a dash of your favorite hot sauce won't add much sodium to your diet. One teaspoon of Tabasco provides only 35 mg.
2. Cook from scratch when possible. The more a food is processed, the more sodium it is likely to contain. Cook with fresh foods rather than heat from cans, mixes or boxes. For example, steam fresh green beans rather than using canned, and flavor pasta with fresh herbs rather than the powdered flavorings that come in most box mixes.
3. Dilute high-sodium processed foods. If you want a meal in a hurry and there's a can of soup on the shelf, try this trick. Pour the contents of the can into a saucepan, add a 16-ounce bag of frozen mixed vegetables, and add enough water to make the mixture soupy. A one-cup serving of this concoction will have less sodium per serving with the added vegetables than the soup plain from the can. That's because instead of 2 servings, the added vegetables have now made 4 servings.
4. Make swaps. Make lower-sodium versions at home of store-bought favorites. For example, if you like turkey luncheon meat, buy a turkey breast, roast it when you have some time, and then slice it thinly. You can freeze a portion or two of it for future use. One ounce of turkey breast has only 52 mg of sodium while the same size serving of store-bought luncheon meat typically serves up 260 mg.
5. Look for low-salt foods. There are lots of examples out there today, everything from unsalted nuts to reduced-sodium soups. These foods shouldn't be daily staples over fresh foods, but can provide a healthier alternative when time is short or your galley pantry is almost bare.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.