The use of sea salt is becoming more popular these days, its presence can be found in savory and sweet dishes alike. Some tout it to be a healthier alternative to regular table salt, stating that it offers more trace minerals and a “saltier” taste per teaspoon -thus reducing the amount needed in cooking to add flavor. But is there really a difference between the two types or should this proclamation be taken with a “grain of salt”? Read more.
Do you tend to have a heavy hand with the salt? If you do, you are not alone. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a sodium intake that is no more than 2,300 mg/day for individuals 2 years of age and older – that is about 1 teaspoon of salt per day. The recommendations for at-risk populations (African-Americans, adults 40 years and older, and hypertensive individuals) is lower, set at no more than 1,500 mg/day. However, the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg/day of sodium. Why is this so bad? Sodium stimulates your kidneys to retain water. This, in turn, increases your blood volume. An increased blood volume can cause hypertension (high blood pressure). And, hypertension increases your risk for developing heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.
Individuals who are at-risk and/or are “salt sensitive” – that is, more susceptible to the effects of salt on the body – need to take particular care concerning sodium intake; however, all individuals need to lower consumption to reduce health risks. Last April, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its report Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. In this publication, the IOM states that a collaborative effort is needed to reduce the amount of sodium Americans consume. Part of this strategy entails new government standards for sodium content in foods produced by food manufacturers, restaurants, and foodservice providers. The ultimate goal is to set a standard sodium level for commercially prepared foods that is considered to be safe. This reduction is to occur graduallyso as to allow the American palate to adjust accordingly without change being significantly noticed. Likewise, the IOM is calling upon Americans themselves to make wiser choices about food products and to limit sodium content in home-prepard foods. Other sectors of society, such as health professionals and public-private corporations are asked to support the implementation of sodium guidelines by food producers as well as to encourage fellow Americans to follow a lower sodium diet.
How can you take action to reduce the sodium in your diet?
- Gradually lower your intake of sodium to the recommended level.
- Purchase items labeled as “low salt,” “low sodium,” “no salt added,” and “sodium free.”
- Avoid adding salt while cooking foods such as rice, pasta, whole-grain cereals, and vegetables.
- Add flavor by using salt-free spices and herbs instead of salt. Good salt-free alternatives include lemon-pepper blends, all-spice, paprika, curry powder, turmeric, dry mustard, caraway seeds, sesame seeds, basil, dill, and garlic. Using lemon juice and vinegar can also add flavor without the need for salt.
- Watch out for hidden sources of sodium, such as some over-the-counter and prescription medications, certain natural foods (e.g., olives and seafood), and baking soda and baking powder.
Although it is important to reduce your sodium intake to the recommended safe level, do not eliminate salt completely from your diet. Sodium is essential for proper muscle function, neurotransmission of impulses and fluid regulation and balance in your body.
How have you reduced the amount of sodium in your diet? Share with us, we want to know!
Sources for more information
Institute of Medicine
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
Terms used to promote healthy eating can be confusing, even misleading at times. Below, two terms that are commonly seen on product labels and on signs in the produce aisle of your local market, are defined. Familiarize yourself with their definitions before your next shopping trip to ensure purchases that will promote your health.
- Natural: Currently there is no formal definition for this term by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, it is generally accepted that a product that is labeled as “natural” implies that it does not contain any synthetic ingredients or artificial colors, flavors, and/or preservatives. A product that is labeled as “natural” does not infer or guarantee that its ingredients were produced using organic farming and/or handling and processing methods.
- Organic: Products labeled as “organic” have to comply to the USDA standards. In order for meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products to be considered organic, the animals from which these products come from cannot have been given antibiotics or growth hormones. Fruits, vegetables, and other plant products are organic if they were produced without use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, sewage sludge, ionizing radiation, or bioengineering. Organic farms have to be inspected by a government approved organic certifier. It is also important to note that a product can only contain a few organic ingredients with the rest produced by conventional methods. If it consists of at least 70% organic ingredients, the label will say it is “made with organic ingredients” but the USDA organic seal will not be present on the packaging. Products that contain at least 95% of organic ingredients will be labeled as “organic” and can have the USDA organic seal on the label. If a product’s ingredients are all organic then the label can state that it is “100% organic” and its packaging will carry the USDA organic seal.
More and more scientific evidence is being reported that supports the consumption of foods in their natural state and those that have been derived by organic methods as a way for not only promoting your own health, but that of the Earth. While shopping, it is important to read labels carefully. Note that just because a product is labeled as “natural” or “organic,” it does not mean it is necessarily healthy – it still can contain high amounts of sugar, salt, and fat. If one of these ingredients is listed first or second on the list, you can be guaranteed the product contains a high amount of that ingredient and you will want to opt for another product. To learn more about product labeling visit the American Dietetic Association’s website.