Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How to Reduce Sodium Intake

Salt-free food can be very tasty. I cook almost completely without salt and, despite that, I often receive compliments on my cooking skills.

In my household of two, a kilogram of salt lasted more than two years (which means that my husband and I consumed less than 0.7 gram of salt per person per day, well within the limits of the Institute of Medicine recommendation to reduce salt intake to less than 1.5 grams per day. (Our bodies need only 0.18-0.5 grams of sodium per day! Still, the average daily sodium intake in the US is about 3.5 grams per person, age two and older.)

If we would eat out often, or would eat processed food, we would probably end up slightly above the daily limit. Luckily, I love cooking and my husband enjoys home-cooked meals much more than eating out, so we don't have that problem. As a result, my blood pressure is usually about 90/60, and doesn't rise much even after several coffees. So you can consider me a living proof that a low-salt diet works.

Needless to say, maintaining a low-blood pressure has multiple health benefits, the most important of which is decreasing the risk of stroke and heart disease. Nearly 400,000 Americans die every year as a result of high-blood pressure. Most of these people could be saved if only we could convince them to switch to and maintain a low-sodium diet.

So how to switch to a low-sodium diet?

(1) Cook for yourself.

(2) When you eat out:

  • Ask that the food be prepared without added salt, MSG, or salt-containing ingredients. 
  • Stay away from salty snacks, as well as mustard, ketchup, pickles, soy and teriyaki sauces.
  • Don't add extra salt.

(3) Don't buy pre-cooked foods.

Cut back on frozen dinners, especially pizza, canned soups and broths, as well as salad dressings—these often have a lot of sodium.

(4) Cook rice, pasta, potatoes, and vegetables without salt.

Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes, as they usually have added salt.

(5) Limit consumption of pickles, pickled vegetables, olives, and sauerkraut.

(6) Limit consumption of ketchup, mustard, and horseradish.

(7) Limit consumption of even lower sodium versions of soy, teriyaki, and barbecue sauces.

(8) Eliminate canned food, especially canned fish and ham, but also beans and vegetables.

Choose fresh or frozen products over canned. And if you have to use canned foods, rinse them well to remove some of the sodium.

(9) Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned, smoked, or processed types.

(10) Limit consumption of processed cheese.

(11) Use other spices instead of salt. Flavor foods with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, or salt-free seasoning blends.

(12) If salt is needed, add it at the very end, just before serving food, and choose large-grain potassium and magnesium-enriched sea salt instead of regular salt.

(13) When buying food, look for no-salt-added, salt-free or low-sodium versions of foods.

Read the Nutrition Facts labels on foods to compare the amount of sodium in products. Look for the sodium content in milligrams and the Percent Daily Value. Aim for foods that are less than 5 percent of the Daily Value of sodium.

This is what labels mean:

Sodium free or salt freeLess than 5 mg per serving
Very low sodium35 mg or less of sodium per serving
Low sodium140 mg or less of sodium per serving
Low-sodium meal140 mg or less of sodium per 31/2 oz (100 g)
Reduced or less sodiumAt least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version
Light in sodium50 percent less sodium than the regular version
Unsalted or no salt addedNo salt added to the product during processing (this is not a sodium-free food)

(14) Conversely, increase consumption of products rich in potassium and magnesium, such as: potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, kale, spinach, tomatoes, bananas, apricots, oranges, soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, split peas, almonds, milk, yogurt, lean meats, fish, and poultry.

Adapted from: link.