Salt is wonderful. It’s like a miracle dust that makes almost anything taste better. Auntie Anne’s pretzels, popcorn, ramen, chicken, caramel(!), anything potato-related–they’re all top favorites of mine. It’s no coincidence, though, that these are some of the worst foods for sodium content around.
Seriously, some of the best stuff on earth is loaded with salt, and if you’re like many people in the U.S., your sodium intake is probably severely lacking in moderation because of it. That is to say, you eat way too much salt, and probably don’t even realize it.
In July 2015, Time reported that “90% of Americans eat too much salt.” So, pretty much the entire country is loading up on salt.
Why does it matter?
For many, these high-sodium diets are killers. A 2013 CDC report, showed that “medical costs for cardiovascular disease are predicted to triple from $273 billion to $818 billion between 2010 to 2030, and cutting back on sodium intake by 1,200 mg a day could save $18 billion in costs each year.”
High blood pressure is another effect of high sodium, whose effects can develop later in life for those who haven’t yet developed hypertension. The American Heart Association’s infographic “7 Salty Myths Busted” explains, “Even for people who don’t have high blood pressure, less sodium will significantly blunt the rise in blood pressure that occurs as we age…” In addition to hypertension and heart disease, high levels of salt in diets have been shown to potentially delay the onset of puberty.
Besides the effects of high sodium on your health, it can also affect how you LOOK. Too much sodium causes water retention. Table salt will also create “false fat”, making us look bloated and up to 9 pounds heavier than we truly weigh, according to nutritionist Kimberly Snyder. No one likes to look or feel bloated, and all of your hard work in the gym working out for a lean physique or a flat tummy won’t show at all if you’re puffed up with salt and water.
Yes, SOME salt is a necessary and important part of your diet, but it’s important not to take it too far in the opposite direction.
Sneaky Sodium Offenders
- “Lean” diet meals – Many people reach for frozen weight loss meals for their quick-heat convenience and pre-portioned sizes. However, in order to make something low-calorie that will still taste good, many of the big corporations add large amounts of sodium to improve the taste of these quick meals. If you must go with a microwave quickie, NOLA.com has a few suggestions that are better than most, nutrition wise, but they warn, “even the lighter, better-for-you brands typically have at least 500 to 700 mg of sodium…” If you like the convenience of a frozen dinner, why not try making some yourself and save yourself the added salt and other chemical preservatives.
- Canned Vegetables – Sodium is usually added to canned foods to preserve them. While you may think you’re doing well to have veggies with dinner, you want to make sure you aren’t killing your healthy meal with loads of salt. As mentioned above, you want to be sure to look for low-sodium, reduced-sodium or no-salt-added labeled foods. Drain and rinse canned veggies and beans to reduce sodium even more. Whenever possible, opt for fresh or frozen instead of canned. (Heart.org).
- Deli meats – Deli meats can contain up to half of your suggested daily sodium intake in just one two-ounce serving. That’s the equivalent of about six thin slices. (HealthDay) Try cutting up fresh chicken or turkey breast made at home for sandwiches instead of processed slices.
- Enhanced Meat and Poultry Products – Always check the labels of your meats, especially poultry, which are now often be injected with a sodium-water solution to “plump” the meat and add weight. The USDA explains, “Enhanced or value-added meat and poultry products are raw products that contain flavor solutions added through marinating, needle injecting, soaking, etc.” Avoid extra sodium and other additives by going for natural and organic meat cuts instead.
Now that you know the major sources of salt overload in your diet, take a look at a few ways to cut back on sodium, and still keep things delicious.
Avoiding High Sodium Content
Make your own food
Sure you have times where you have to grab a quick bite, or may want to eat out with friends, but making an effort to make the majority of your own food will make a huge difference in your daily sodium intake, among other things.
Restaurant and fast food places are the most common offenders when it comes to salty dishes. “77 percent of a person’s salt intake comes from restaurant or processed food; only 6 percent is added at the table and only 5 percent during cooking,” according to the CDC. This means that eating at home can reduce your salt intake by a HUGE margin.
Eatthis.com lists ‘The 10 Saltiest Foods in America.’ Of course there are nachos and chili cheese fries on the rundown, but the list’s No. 1 offender is a popular restaurant staple boasting a whopping 6,260 mg of sodium (the equivalent of 39 salt packets)! Click the link to find out what it is, as well as some better choices at the same restaurants.
Purchase low or reduced-sodium items
Even when cooking at home, many items we purchase may have salt already added. Certain foods like chicken broth, beans, and other healthy diet staples are time consuming to make at home, so if you’re going to buy canned or pre-packaged, make sure to opt for the low-sodium versions.
It’s in the sauce
Ketchup, soy sauce, pre-packaged seasoning blends and stir-fry mixes, bottled salad dressings, dips, jarred salsas, spaghetti sauce, capers, mustard, and any pickled foods are all top salt sources. Opt for no (or very little) sauce to cut your sodium dramatically. Greatist has an awesome list of lower-sodium condiments to kick up your recipes and snacks without guilt.
Freshly ground spices and herbs can add huge flavor to your meals without upping sodium content. Basil, cilantro, rosemary and thyme add flavor and aroma, especially when fresh, while cayenne, turmeric, chili powder, and curry add kick and culture to any dish. Don’t overlook the power of other spices to make your food exciting.
How do you cut down on salt in your diet? Share your favorite tips in the comments!
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