Salt is an acquired taste. If you think you are born loving salt, just consider what happens if you put salt on a baby’s tongue – that poor kid will screw up his face and say, BLEH!
But give that same child a taste of sugar and… well, now you’ll see some smiles.
Why is this? The answer is simple: Mother’s milk contains lactose (all milk contains lactose) or milk sugar, which is the source of carbohydrate in milk.
Nature designed milk to be sweet and appealing to babies – but we use salt (a mixture of sodium and chloride) to flavor our food. However, sodium is also an essential electrolyte that plays multiple roles in our body’s chemistry – water retention, muscle contraction, and enzyme activation, for starters.
While a little salt is good, too much is bad.
Experts agree that most people only require about 500 milligrams of sodium daily to maintain good health. Unfortunately, the average American consumes in excess of 3,400 milligrams!
A study from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food watchdog group that’s based in Washington, D.C., shows that reducing sodium consumption by half would save an estimated 150,000 lives a year in the United States.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the average adult should consume no more than about 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. That amount equates to roughly one teaspoon of salt.
The same study also recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day for the at-risk populations that include African-Americans, any person with hypertension, and any person over 40 years of age. This lower recommendation applies to nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults.
Excessive salt consumption is linked to high blood pressure, an increased risk for stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.
The American Heart Association estimates that 97 percent of kids are at higher risk from these diseases as they get older simply because they eat too much salt.
But this is an easy fix. All you have to do is make some modifications to your diet. Do so and you can lower your salt consumption and reduce your risk for disease – and lead the way to improve your family’s health, too.
Somewhat surprisingly, most of the sodium in American diets comes from bread and rolls. Most of us eat several servings daily – and that sodium adds up.
Cold cuts, as well as smoked, cured, cold and canned meats and fish come in second. A single 2-ounce serving (or 6 slices of deli meat) can contribute up to half of the whole day’s recommended sodium.
A slice of restaurant pizza can similarly overload your sodium need. So too will canned soups and other canned foods. A one-cup serving of regular chicken noodle soup has almost 900 milligrams of sodium. Salted nuts, frozen entrees and cereals are typically high in sodium, as well.
TIP: Choose dry roasted, unsalted nuts, and check the label on packaged foods.
Of course, too little salt isn’t good either.
You may have fitness on your schedule, and work out regularly, perspire profusely, and possibly, if you’re sticking to whole, fresh foods and not supplementing, you may not consume enough salt. Some extreme athletes like marathoners can lose from 700–1,600 milligrams of sodium in an hour, so competitive athletes should work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with advanced training in sports nutrition to maintain their health and sharpen their competitive edge.
But, if you’re not a marathoner, then no worries! Just use your meal planner online with eDiets.com and see if you’re consuming more than 500 milligrams of sodium daily. I’m sure you are.
In today’s world, the question is: can you achieve the recommended 2,300mg? That’s the goal – and it’s easy when you try.
Since salt is an acquired taste, it’s also possible to un-acquire craving for the crystals!
It’s time to rediscover the real taste of real foods. Spice up your diet, and lower the sodium, naturally. After a while, you’ll find “regular” salted foods too salty!
A Sprinkling of Tips for Lower-Sodium Eating
GOODBYE! Ditch the saltshaker and replace it with sodium-free blends of natural flavorings. They are easy to find in the aisle where stores sell spices and herbs. When cooking, reduce by at least half the amount of salt called for in recipes.
GOOD BUY! Check food labels for the terms low sodium, very low sodium or sodium free. I’m thinking peanut butter, tomato sauce, canned fish, and canned soups. A good rule of thumb is to ignore any packaged food that contains more than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
GOOD CHOICE! Enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes and grains. Opt for cooked oatmeal rather than salty cereal. Instead of canned varieties, use dried beans – or drain and rinse your canned favorites. That goes for all canned foods. Lean proteins including eggs, lean meats, and fresh fish contain little sodium. Dairy contains some sodium naturally, and for those foods to which sodium is typically added like cheese and buttermilk, buy the reduced or low-sodium varieties.
Susan Burke March is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, who as chief nutritionist for eDiets promotes the dietary health and wellbeing of consumers worldwide.