Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Salty Solution

Sodium and salt have become the new evil nemesis to health over last few years. Eating too much sodium can increase blood pressure (and increase your risk for developing it if you don't already have it), increase your chances of having a stroke and developing heart disease. As a result of demand from consumers for lower sodium products, numerous food companies have started to reduce the sodium content of their products. But how do you know if a lower sodium product is actually healthy? How low is lower than original and how much sodium should I eat per day?

Adults need about 1500mg of sodium daily up to a maximum of 2500mg. Sodium is a component of salt (technically, table salt is Sodium + Chloride) and 1 tsp. of salt contains 2500mg sodium- so we do not need much to satisfy our needs and often go over and above the 2500 mg mark. Studies have shown that even people who do not add salt to their food tend to eat about 3000mg of salt per day. Keeping tract of how much sodium you eat over the entire day is near impossible but knowing what foods are rich in sodium can help you avoid eating too much.

The general rule is the more processed a food is, the more sodium it contains. For example, fresh tomatoes versus canned tomatoes or block cheese versus cheez whiz. The spread can be over double the difference and thus make quite an impact on your health. Did you know that 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed, ready to eat and restaurant foods?! Changing certain ingredients in your favourite recipes may be all that is necessary to improve sodium content rather than adopting all new recipes; for example switching canned vegetables for frozen or fresh. Luckily, processed foods usually have food labels which we can compare sodium contents.

Comparing food labels can seem difficult but there is a simple way to remember all those values. If you are looking at a one food item product (ex. tomatoes, crackers or beans)
0-200mg = great / every day foods
200-400mg = ok / a few times per week
400+ = watch out / occasional foods
2 exceptions to this rule are canned soup and frozen meals where the maximum amount of sodium you want is 650mg and 600mg respectively.

Foods that are often high in sodium are:
Anything pickled of kept in brine (ex. pickles, beets, olives)
Canned soup
Cottage cheese
Vegetable juice (ex. V8)
Cheese, especially feta
Canned vegetables
Deli meats
Anything smoked

Eating small servings of these foods is important as well as avoiding eating more than one of them in one day. For example, eating cottage cheese with fruit for breakfast, soup and crackers at lunch and smoked salmon for supper would most likely put you over and above the maximum for the day.

Some replacement foods for those mentioned above are:
Ricotta cheese
Boconcinni cheese
Homemade meat for sandwiches (leftovers perhaps)
Fresh/ frozen fish
Rinse canned vegetables and fish
Lower sodium broth and other lower/low sodium products

If you tend to shake on the salt at the table to add flavor- one option is to replace the salt in the shaker with your own blend of herbs and spices. For example, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon parsley flakes, 1/2 teaspoon tarragon, 1 1/2 teaspoons basil.
Even diluting salt with flax seed (1 tbsp ground flax seed + 1/2 tsp salt) adds flavor without the sodium.
Another idea is to tape over half the holes in the salt shaker so that every shake shakes out only half the salt.

The idea is not to aim for zero mg of sodium per day but to understand what foods contribute to the majority of the sodium you eat in one day and find simple ways to eat less of those foods.
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