Our bodies need the mineral sodium to transport nutrients throughout the body, aid in necessary muscle contractions (like the beating of our heart), regulate blood volume and cellular fluids, and maintain a normal acid-alkaline balance. In other words, in order for our bodies to run smoothly, we need sodium in our diet. Table salt is our primary source of sodium. So, if our bodies need table salt, what is all the fuss about cutting salt out of our diets? Before you pick up the saltshaker, keep in mind that we need no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. That is, our diet necessitates less than one teaspoon of salt daily. Yet, most Americans consume at least two to three times the recommended daily intake. And therein lies the problem. Over time, all that extra sodium can lead you down an unhealthy path that may lead to disease.
Did you know that salt is actually an acquired taste? In fact, the more salt you eat, the more you need for foods to taste “salty.” With quantities such as a “shake” here on food or a “pinch” there in recipes, we rarely notice the exact amount of salt we are consuming. A couple of shakes from a saltshaker or a few sprinkles into your pot or bowl while cooking can easily add up to 1/4 teaspoon or 600 mg of sodium. And it’s not just your shaking and sprinkling that is adding unnecessary sodium to your diet. Sodium is actually “hidden” in a lot of unexpected foods and beverages. Just because something does not taste salty, doesn’t mean it’s sodium-free. Cookies, tomato sauces, diet sodas, and condiments such as ketchup and soy sauce (900 mg per tablespoon) are just a few examples of packaged foods and beverages with a ton of unexpected and unwanted sodium. When buying packaged foods, start by looking for items listed as “low sodium”—defined as less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. And if the packaging is unclear, look directly at the nutrition label.
Research shows that reducing the amount of sodium added to cooked or raw food and in your recipes by 25 percent is a big enough adjustment to have a positive change in your overall health and is small enough that your taste buds will never notice. Simple adjustments like reading the labels of the processed foods you consume, measuring the salt added to recipes, and settling on one less salt shake at the dinner table will help reduce your sodium intake. But if you want to take your health and wellness to the next level while at the same time reducing your sodium intake, try devoting one more day a week to a home-cooked meal, adding more herbs and spices to your meals, and adding in more vitamin- and mineral-rich foods. These small adjustments add up to huge dietary victories.
- Pump up the potassium. Getting rid of the saltshaker can be a little tough, and if you just cannot say no, try to balance out all that sodium by upping your potassium intake. Potassium can reduce the damage done by sodium by reducing blood pressure and dilating arteries. Some foods rich in potassium include oranges, melon, and tomatoes. To keep sodium levels down, try boosting your potassium intake to keep blood pressure from rising.
- DIY salad dressing. Salad dressings are often a major source of sodium; the average salad dressing contains 500 mg of sodium per two tablespoons, and most of us use a lot more dressing than that. Try making your own salad dressing by using oil and vinegar and fresh herbs. Now you have a delicious dressing using low-sodium items—a win-win combination!
- Season your dishes—without the salt. Try adding herbs, spices, and even the zest of lemons or oranges instead of using salt to season your dishes. These are great ways to add flavor, sans the sodium. Rosemary and lemon are delicious with chicken, and orange zest goes perfectly with seafood, again, without the salt. Adding a splash of fresh lemon or orange juice will provide antioxidants and vitamin C, while also giving a refreshing flavor to your dishes.