Well, even though it’s 94 degrees outside, I am still throwing myself into Autumn whimsy. I even got myself a pumpkin-spice latte from Starbucks last week. If that doesn’t make it Fall I just don’t know what does. Am I right?
Now that Fall routine is underway and Summer vacations have come to an end, I have many clients wanting to get back on track. As they settle into a new routine, they often are looking for ways to control stress and resulting higher blood pressures through diet. This often brings up their concerns on salt, and realizations that cutting down on salt in the American diet is HARD. The food industry adds looaddds of salt to many goods to help increase shelf-life and add flavor. Many tell me they don’t ever use the salt shaker, but after reviewing their diet history they discover lots of hidden sources of salt – the real culprit that can affect heart health. It’s pretty unfair and not our fault, but equipping ourselves with awareness and knowledge of label reading can help fix that.
First of all, we all need salt. We wouldn’t be here without it. It is responsible for muscle contraction, in the transmission of nerve impulses, and works with it’s pal, potassium, in regulating fluid volume in the body. We need it for electrolyte balance, especially in times of heavy sweating. Hyponatremia (salt is too low in the blood) is not uncommon in athletes and can be dangerous. It can cause nausea and headaches, and in worse cases, hallucinations, and even coma. Salt is good.
However, you know too much of a good thing can be bad. Some people are more salt sensitive than others, and how much fluid retention it can cause can vary from person to person. Your kidneys are responsible for regulating sodium, which is why a low sodium diet is important in those with kidney problems. On the other hand, when you have a diet high in sodium, you retain more fluid, increasing the volume that flows through your blood vessels. Since your blood vessels cannot accommodate this increased flow, your blood pressure increases. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to heart disease and stroke. It can also lead to kidney trouble, which regulates sodium, so isn’t that a vicious circle? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
So how much salt should we have? That’s a good question, because it depends on the person, but general recommendations are anywhere from 1,500-2,300mg of sodium a day. To give you some perspective, 2,300mg of salt is equal to about 1 teaspoon, and most Americans eat around 3,400mg of salt a day if not more. There is still a lot of conflicting evidence out there about the benefits of severe sodium restriction (aside from it being extremely difficult to maintain), so it is not something I harp on. I do agree most of us are getting too much however, and reducing it down towards 2,300mg is a good start.
Should I toss the salt shaker out the window? Not necessarily. I use a salt shaker/grinder on occasion. What you should do instead is focus on those heart-effecting hidden culprits, like processed meats (deli included), fast foods, condiments, relishes, dry and canned soups, gravies, etc. You can also check out some recipes for delicious no salt seasoning blends (some at the end of this post), or buy no salt blends at the store (like Mrs. Dash). Just because you cut down on salt doesn’t mean your food has to be blah.
Another perk of cutting down on salt that I have to mention is that your taste buds amazingly adapt. The natural flavor of foods (often masked by salt) will become sharper, and suddenly when you do have heavier salt it tastes TOO salty. Isn’t it so awesome they do that? For those of you starting a lower salt diet give it about 3-4 weeks.
If you’re already on medication for blood pressure, keep in mind that reducing your sodium can make your blood pressure medications work better (keep an eye on your blood pressure for need of adjusments) or could even lessen your dependence on medications. Your doctor will be pleased and I know you will be too.
Eating too much salt? Don’t sweat it (or maybe you do…HAR HAR). Here are some tips to start cutting down right now.
1) Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. They are naturally low in sodium. Even canned or frozen fruits are low in sodium.
2) If you buy canned vegetables, choose “no added salt” varieties. HEB has a bunch:
3) When you cannot get low sodium canned goods, rinsing and draining can cut up to 40% their sodium.
4) Always shop for reduced sodium/low sodium soups and broths.
5) If buying frozen vegetables, buy “freshly frozen,” because that means no added sauces or seasonings.
6) Whenever possible, buy fresh meat rather than packaged. It is much lower in sodium. Any kind of meat that keeps well in the fridge for several days or weeks probably has a lot of sodium, like bacon or hot dogs.
7) When possible, use fresh meat leftovers for sandwiches. If you buy deli meat, buy low sodium.
8) Get familiar with label reading for sodium content. Even high sugar foods can sometimes have lots of hidden sodium.
9) Compare products to help choose ones that have lower sodium. Brands can vary.
10) Labels that read 500 mg or more of sodium are not good choices.
11) Buy seasonings that don’t have “salt” on the label. For example, garlic powder or onion powder instead of garlic salt or onion salt.
12) Watch your intake of cheeses, which can contain a lot of hidden salt.
13) Don’t be afraid to ask your waiter for dishes without salt, or do your research on sodium content before going to a restaurant. Ask for gravies on the side. Restaurant food can contain a lot more than what you would use at home.
14) When looking at restaurant menus, remember that terms like “pickled,” “brined,” “barbequed,” “cured,” “soy sauce,” “miso,” “au jus,” “teriyaki sauce,” “broths,” “gravy,” tend to have more sodium.
15) On menus, “baked,” “poached,” “grilled,” “steamed,” or “roasted,” are good choices.
16) Get creative with seasonings to keep your food flavorful. Garlic, lemon juice, spices, herbs, vinegar, black pepper, salt-free seasoning blends are all great substitutes for salt.
17) Watch for high sodium condiments such as pickles, soy sauce, barbeque sauce, jarred salsas, olives, mustards, and relishes. Look for lower sodium versions.
18) Avoid processed/pre-packaged foods when possible. The more you can cook from scratch, the better.
Here are some seasoning blend recipes to try out from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
Mixed herb blend: Mix together ¼ cup dried parsley flakes, 2 tablespoons dried tarragon and 1 tablespoon each of dried oregano, dill weed and celery flakes.
Italian blend: Mix together 2 tablespoons each of dried basil and dried marjoram, 1 tablespoon each of garlic powder and dried oregano and 2 teaspoons each of thyme, crushed dried rosemary and crushed red pepper.
Mexican blend: Mix together ¼ cup chili powder, 1 tablespoon each of ground cumin and onion powder, 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano, garlic powder and ground red pepper and ½ teaspoon cinnamon.
If you want to learn more ways to cut down on salt when grocery shopping and you live in the New Braunfels/SA area, join us this Thursday at 6:30pm for my class, Grocery Shopping Smarts and Label Reading. Check out http://www.food4success.com for more details on location and how to sign up!
Until next time!