Sodium, just like fats and so many other “bad” buzzwords, is essential to our body’s functions, in moderation. In controlled amounts, sodium monitors blood pressure and volume, while also ensuring proper muscle and nerve function. Too much, however, can heighten high blood pressure, as well as lead to kidney disease, dehydration, and even stroke. Salt can also make you feel bloated, add unwanted fluids to the bloodstream, swell the legs, face, and hands. The U.S. recommendation for adult sodium intake per day is 2,300 milligrams (about a teaspoon of salt), but Americans usually consume a daily teaspoon and a half, or more. Merely a teaspoon – that doesn’t seem too bad, does it? Yet, our bodies require very little sodium to maintain balance. We can attribute this excess to salty snacks, particularly packaged foods. Salt is frequently used as a natural preservative; thus, many processed foods have such long shelf lives because of the high sodium count. So, how can we lower our sodium intake without sacrificing the taste and flavor that a pinch of salt and pepper so easily provides?
Reducing your saltiest foods is the quickest way to lower your sodium consumption. The foods highest in salt are usually packaged powdered broths and soups, snacks like pretzels and chips, soy sauce, packaged salad dressing, cured meats and cold cuts like salami and bacon, olives, and pickled foods. Sports drinks are usually filled with electrolytes, which are fine when replacing your salts after sweating profusely, but without exercise can spike your salt levels. Baked goods can also have a surprising amount of sodium, namely because it’s a key ingredient of baking soda and powder. Fast foods are also notorious for huge amounts of salt; many drive thru foods can take up more than your daily allowance of sodium in one meal.
So, what are the easiest ways to moderate sodium without losing flavor? One way is to rethink your snacking; choose fruits and vegetables over packaged cookies and chips. Rely more on spices, herbs, and low sodium seasonings than straight salt. Avoid soups when eating out, as they’re usually loaded in the sodium that comes from canned soup broths and bases. Aim for fresh vinaigrettes based in vinegar and oil over prepared, thick salad dressings. Ditch the Italian sub for a lean chicken or turkey sandwich.
What I’m saying here is not that you need to completely rid your diet of sodium. Go ahead and enjoy your tomato soup, or your occasional small French fries, but try not to make it a lifestyle.
To read more about today’s health issues, check out our series on nutrition.