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K-I-S-S: Keep It Simply Salted

by DiAnn Lanke Stasik 08/04/08

Did you know that the daily recommendation for sodium chloride (“table salt”) intake for a healthy, young adult is 2,300 mg? Ninety-percent of the salt ingested by the average American is in the form of sodium chloride and is approximately 4,000 mg of sodium a day; which 1.74 time more than the recommendation (Ref. Hypertension and Stroke on July 29, 2008).

This doesn’t mean that you should try to eliminate all sodium from your diet. You need some salt for proper bodily functions such as maintaining the correct balance of fluids, effecting the contraction and relaxation of muscles and transmitting of nerve impulses. The organ responsible for regulating the amount of sodium in your body is your kidneys. Your kidneys conserve sodium when your body’s overall sodium levels are low and excrete surplus sodium in urine when your levels are high.

Before refrigeration, dehydration, freezing, chemical preservatives and irradiation, salting was one of just a few methods to preserve food. Salting was, and still is, used to draw moisture out of food which prohibited bacteria growth and hence, prevent spoilage. Reasons for using salt today include flavoring, thickening, reduction of dryness in pretzels and crackers, increasing sweetness in deserts and disguising chemical aftertaste in things such as sodas.

The main sources of salt in the average U.S. diet are processed and prepared foods, condiments, and food containing sodium naturally. The best way to tell if or how much sodium a food product contains is to read the Nutrition Facts label. Compounds containing sodium include sodium nitrate or nitrite, sodium alginate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking powder, baking soda and disodium phosphate.

Why should you lower your salt intake? Lowering sodium levels can have positive effects on your blood pressure. Your blood pressure might be effected more by sodium if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, are older than 50, and if you are black. Other diseases such as chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure and cirrhosis can cause sodium regulation dysfunction. It is suggested that if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease and/or diabetes, are African-American, are older than age 50, you should try to consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. (Ref. Mayo Clinic dietitian Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.)

Now what you have been waiting for – ways to reduce salt in diet:

*Eat fewer processed foods such as frozen dinners, cured meats and potato chips.

*Choose foods labeled “reduced sodium” or “low sodium.”

*Use herbs, spices and other flavoring to season foods instead of table salt.

*Eat more unprocessed, fresh foods – ex. fresh fruits and vegetables; fresh, lean meats, poultry and fish; and unprocessed grains.

*Remove salt from recipes whenever possible.

*Limit your use of condiments – ex. Salad dressings, dips, sauces, mustard, ketchup and relish.

*Use salt substitutes wisely.

*When eating away from home you should try to avoid most soups and sauces.

Some of you might be wondering about sea salt. Both sea and table salt have the same nutritional value. The real differences between the two occur in their taste and texture. If you prefer fewer additives, you might consider sea salt. However, there is no evidence that the additives in table salt are harmful to your health.

Believe it or not, the taste for salt is acquired. This means that as you use less salt, your preference for it will decrease and you will begin to enjoy the taste of the food itself. But sometimes old habits die hard, so it is best to decrease your salt use gradually which gives your taste buds the opportunity to adjust. Most people no longer crave salt after a few weeks of reducing it from their diet. Try a step-down process such as using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of added salt per day for two weeks, then using no more than 1/8 teaspoon of added salt per day for two weeks, then switch to the no salt add-ons. I call this the K-I-S-S approach – Keep It Simply Salted.

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