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Shake the Salt Habit

Long ago, salt was so scarce and precious that it was used for money. Caesar’s soldiers received part of their pay in salt. That portion of their pay was called salarium which is the root word for salary.

Today, salt is so readily available that it is called common table salt.

Salt is sodium chloride and contains 40% sodium by weight. One teaspoon of salt contains 2,100 milligrams of sodium. Sodium plays a major role in the regulation of body fluids. For some people, especially those who are sodium-sensitive or who have high blood pressure, sodium may increase their blood pressure. Having high blood pressure can increase a person’s risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.

For the average adult who does NOT have high blood pressure, the daily sodium intake should be kept to less than 2,300 mg, according to the Hawaii diet manual. This includes all sources of sodium consumed daily – about ½ to 1½ teaspoons of table salt. Americans average about 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams a day or 2-3 teaspoons of salt a day. This is 2-3 times the recommended intake.

As a food additive, salt is second only to sugar in the amount added to food in processing. When foods are processed, salt and other sodium ingredients are added. Common sodium additives that are used as preservatives, thickeners and flavor enhancers are hidden sources of sodium. Here’s a list of sodium additives and their uses in food:

• Baking powder - leavening agent
• Baking soda - leavening agent
• Monosodium glutamate - flavor enhancer
• Sodium alginate - used in chocolate milk and ice cream to make a smooth mixture
• Sodium benzoate - preservative
• Sodium caseinate - thickener and binder
• Sodium citrate - buffer, used to control acidity in soft drinks and fruit juices
• Sodium hydroxide - softens and loosens skins of ripe olives and some fruits and vegetables
• Sodium nitrate - curing agent in meat and sausages, provides color, prevents botulism
• Sodium phosphate - emulsifier, stabilizer, buffer
• Sodium propionate - mold inhibitor
• Sodium saccharin - artificial sweetener
• Sodium sulfite - bleaches fruits for artificial coloring and preservative in prunes

Condiments and Seasonings with Sodium
• Bacon Bits • Barbecue Sauce • Bouillon • Catsup • Celery Salt • Chilies • Chili Sauce • Cocktail Sauce • Cooking Wine • Garlic Salt • Gravy (Canned, Mix) • Horseradish • Marinades • Meat Tenderizer • Miso • MSG • Mustards • Olives • Oyster Sauce • Pickles • Salad Dressings • Salsa • Salt • Sauerkraut • Soy Sauce • Steak Sauce • Sweet and Sour Sauce • Tamari Sauce • Teriyaki Sauce • Worcestershire Sauce

Other Hidden Sources of Sodium
• Over-the-counter Antacids
• Tap Water (softened)
• Toothpaste

Some ways to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet:

• Rinse canned vegetables in cold water before eating them.

• Look for labels that say "sodium free," "very low sodium," "low sodium," "reduced or less sodium," "no salt added" or "unsalted" on cans, boxes, bottles and bags.

• Canned and dry soups are typically high in sodium. Find lower sodium versions.

• Dry mixes for entrees, side dishes and sauces are often high in sodium.

• Ready-prepared frozen entrees and dinners tend to be high in sodium. Even LIGHT versions, which are lower in fat and calories, may still have more sodium than similar foods cooked without high-sodium ingredients.

• Many ready-to-eat cereals contain a lot of sodium. Regular and quick-cooking cereals are much lower in sodium than instant cereals in individual serving packets, especially if you omit salt during cooking.

• Try low sodium crackers such as rice cakes, crispbreads, melba toast and zwieback.

• Avoid adding extra salt to your foods. Taste your food first!

• At salad bars, go easy on the salad dressings, toppings such as cheese, sunflower seeds and bacon bits; and creamy salads such as potato, macaroni and coleslaw.

• Try reduced-sodium varieties of mayonnaise, salad dressings and other condiments, as well as "no-salt added" varieties of tomatoes, tomato sauces and other canned foods.

• Choose foods that are naturally low in sodium.

• Read nutrition labels to find out how much sodium is in the food you are eating.

• Use herbs and spices in place of salt when following recipes.

• Blend equal parts of dried basil, oregano, garlic powder and a pinch of red pepper flakes for a different kind of taste and use this mixture instead of salt.

• Marinate meats in a mixture of orange juice, dried tarragon leaves and ground pepper.

• Avoid using boxed rice mixes - they are high in sodium.

Caution: Many brands of salt substitutes contain potassium instead of sodium, and potassium can interact with some blood pressure medications. Consult with your physician before using potassium-containing salt substitutes.

To get an idea as to how much salt you are consuming, place a square of wax paper or foil on a flat surface. Pretend there is food on the paper and salt it as you would if it contained food. Carefully fold the paper or foil in half and pour the salt into a measuring spoon. If you used about 1⁄8 of a teaspoon of salt, you have added 250 milligrams of sodium to your food.

Spice It Up
Flavor your foods with these herbs and spices instead of salt:

Meat, Poultry And Fish
Beef: Bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, pepper, sage, thyme, garlic
Lamb: Curry powder, garlic, rosemary, mint, pineapple
Pork: Garlic, onion, sage, pepper, oregano, applesauce
Veal: Bay leaf, curry powder, ginger, marjoram, oregano
Chicken: Ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, poultry seasoning, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, lemon juice, pepper
Fish: Curry powder, dill, dry mustard, lemon juice, marjoram, paprika, pepper, bay leaf

Vegetables
Carrots: Cinnamon, cloves, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
Corn: Cumin, curry powder, onion, paprika, parsley, pimiento
Cucumbers: Chives, dill, garlic, vinegar
Green beans: Dill, curry powder, lemon juice, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, thyme
Greens: Onion, pepper, vinegar
Peas:Ginger, marjoram, onion, parsley, sage
Potatoes: Dill, garlic, onion, paprika, parsley, sage, green pepper
Summer Squash: Cloves, curry powder, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
Winter Squash: Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, onion, brown sugar
Tomatoes: Basil, bay leaf, dill, marjoram, onion, oregano, parsley, pepper

Food alone does not make you healthy. Good health also depends on your heredity, environment, the health care you receive, and your lifestyle – how much you exercise and whether you smoke, drink or abuse drugs, for example. For more information about salt, talk with your physician or a registered dietitian.