Please don’t pass the salt

Salt, or its alter ego sodium, has become a huge problem for Americans. The U.S. government has been compelled to address the issue, claiming that 50% of Americans need to drastically reduce their daily sodium intake. How do you know if you’re in that 50%? Should we all be taking steps to reduce the sodium in our lives?

Sodium is extremely important for many of your body’s daily tasks, like controlling your fluid levels, so why is too much a problem? If you intake more salt than your kidneys can filter out, the sodium that builds up in your blood causes you to retain fluids (that gorgeous bloating look you get after a really salty meal). This in turn elevates your blood pressure because of the increased stress on your heart from having to pump the larger amount of blood. High blood pressure is associated with various ailments including heart disease and stroke so it isn’t something to take lightly.

Sources of Sodium for Americans

When looking for the sources of sodium in the American diet, the Mayo Clinic found that an alarming 77% of sodium we intake comes from processed and prepared foods. This may shock some people who think that because they avoid processed foods they do not have to worry about their sodium intake. My warning to you all is that if you eat outside of your home, regardless of where you go, you should be concerned about your sodium intake. In my case, I found out that my favorite quick meal, an “all natural”  low fat chicken noodle soup served at a national chain restaurant, contains over 1400 mg of sodium. That’s over half of your daily recommended value of 2300 mg!

Besides limiting my dining out, I also avoid processed foods whenever possible (this can sometimes be difficult when your are a college student or someone on the go but it’s important to do the best you can). Additionally, I have taken the steps to reduce the salt I knowingly add to my meals. For example, I cannot control how much salt a company chooses to put in their vegetable broth, but I can choose a lower sodium option and mix broth with water to dilute the sodium. I can also eliminate extra sodium by avoiding the salt shaker altogether. It’s okay for food to come in flavors other than “salty.” If you learn to cook with herbs and spices I guarantee you won’t miss the extra salt. Basil, rosemary, cayenne pepper, oregano, and cumin, are just a few staples in my cabinet that give my food tons of flavor without the health risk.

There are many “salt traps” that can be easily avoided. For example, condiments such as salad dressings and sauces are notoriously high in sodium. Alternatives such as oil and vinegar, or making your own dressings and sauces could save you 100s of mg of sodium in just one serving. Try my favorite salad dressing which is balsamic vinegar with garlic powder and black pepper sprinkled on top. You’ll forget all about your trusty salt shaker.

Another trap is deceiving product labels. Just because a label says that the product has “reduced sodium” doesn’t mean you should add it to your pantry. It’s important to check all labels because “reduced sodium” could still be an excessive amount.

Reducing your daily sodium intake is likely to be beneficial to your health and is easily possible once you know what to look out for and what to do to make the transition painless. Feel free to leave your sodium reducing tips below.

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