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
Spices can do more than add a little flavor to your favorite dish, many provide health benefits too! A pinch here and a dash there of certain spices not only helps you to reduce the salt, sugar, and fat content of your meal, but the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties characteristic of these seasonings can also protect you from developing chronic diseases. Symptoms, such as nausea and arthritic pain, can be alleviated as well by use of spices. Here are a few that you will want to keep stocked in your pantry:
- Reduces blood sugar, triglyceride, LDL-cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels of individuals with known type 2 diabetes and, therefore, may reduce the risk for heart disease in this population.
- Store cinnamon in a sealed container in a dark, cool, and dry place.
- Enjoy cinnamon sprinkled on yogurt, smoothies, roasted nuts, squash, sliced apples,whole-grain toast, oatmeal, and hot beverages (e.g., tea).
- Safety concern: Contains oxalate which can pose a problem for individuals prone to developing calcium oxalate kidney stones. Use of cinnamon by these individuals should be discussed with a health care practioner.
- Protects against certain cancers (e.g., colon cancer) and heart disease due to the presence of curcumin, the yellow pigment of turmeric, which has antioxidant properties. Curcumin also has anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to be effective in alleviating the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis (e.g., joint swelling and morning stiffness). Other health benefits asscoiated with turmeric include a reduced risk for diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
- Ground dried turmeric powder should be stored in a sealed container in a dark, cool, and dry place. Fresh turmeric should be kept in the refrigerator.
- Add to grain (e.g., rice) and bean/legume-based dishes and sauces.
- Alleviates symtpoms of nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness and morning sickness. It also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties (from the presence of gingerols) which help to provide relief from pain and swelling related to osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Ground dried ginger powder should be stored in a sealed container in a dark, cool, and dry place. Fresh ginger should be kept in the refrigerator.
- Ginger can be used to season meats, poultry, and fish and added to stir-frys, grain dishes, and desserts. Ginger can also be made into a tea.
- Safety concern: Ginger contains oxalate which can pose a problem for individuals who are prone to developing calcium oxalate kidney stones. Use of ginger by these individuals should be discussed with a health care practitioner.
Cayenne (Red) Pepper
- Contains capsaicin which has been shown to be an effective pain reliever. Consuming cayenne pepper has also been linked to the protection against heart disease. It lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels and reduces the formation of blood clots that can lead to heart attack and stroke.
- Store in a sealed container in a dark, cool, and dry place.
- Add to bean, legume, and pasta dishes. Sprinkle on salads, roasted nuts, or popcorn.
What is your favorite way to add spices to your meals? Share with us, we want to know!
Source of Information:
The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, 2005, Murray, M.