It’s no secret that most of us eat more than our fair share of salt. In fact, the average American consumes around 3400 milligrams of sodium every day.
While this amount is not much more than a teaspoon of table salt, it far exceeds the 2300 milligram limit that is advised in the Dietary Reference Intake. Such excess can, over time, force sodium to accumulate in the blood and thereby cause the heart to work harder, in the process leaving an individual more susceptible to cardiac failure, cirrhosis, and kidney disease. This can have financial implications; for managed care organizations, healthcare contract management is recommended when diverse dietary risks are involved.
Sodium certainly plays a beneficial role in the human body. It can balance fluids, help muscles contract, and play a role in neuron function. It can regulate blood pressure and compensate for low potassium levels. It can insure the maintenance of proper pH levels. But all of these benefits can be achieved on a diet of 500 milligrams of sodium per day – an amount far below standard American consumption.
So almost all of us could benefit from cutting down on the amount of sodium we take in. If you are African-American, suffer from high blood pressure, or are older than middle age, your sodium limits should be reduced even lower than the general population as a whole.
How can we do this? How can we reduce our consumption of an element that is in seemingly every food that we eat? While the task is not an easy one, it is certainly possible nonetheless. Here are a few tips:
Get rid of the salt shaker
Your path to a low-sodium diet starts by removing that salt shaker from the kitchen table. While it has become a habit to eat our meals with extra salt on hand, our use of the salt shaker usually reflects personal habits (we use it because it’s there) and it often leads to excessive sodium consumption.
We all know that there are certain products – i.e. hot dogs – that contain a disproportionately high amount of sodium. But there are numerous food items out there that don’t taste salty but are surprisingly heavy on the sodium front. Bread products often fall into this category. Consequently, since it is impossible to determine sodium content simply by assessing a food’s degree of saltiness, it is important that we read labels and learn to guide our diets with the hard facts in hand.
Substitute other spices
Our high levels of sodium consumption often derive from a simple desire to add flavor to our meals. While salt is definitely capable of adding such flavor, there are other options – low sodium options at that – that can do the trick just as well. It merely requires some experimentation with spices, herbs, juices, and other flavorings.
Cook more meals
The vast majority of our sodium intake comes from meals that we do not cook on our own. Such meals may include a premade entree, a restaurant dinner, or a prepackaged meal. While such meals could be low in sodium, you should read the labels prior to purchase to better monitor sodium intake. When possible, turn instead to home-cooked meals – meals that allow us to consciously determine the amount of salt added. When this is not possible and we are too busy or hurried to cook, the best alternative is to turn to brands that market low-sodium products (items with less than 140 milligrams per serving).
Reduce consumption gradually
Finally, it is worth noting that our taste for excessive sodium is an acquired one, influenced by years of gradually adding more and more salt to our diets. If we can train our taste buds to regularly eat blander and less salty foods, we will likely find processed meals to suddenly taste salty and unappealing. Along these lines, our plan to reduce sodium intake should be implemented slowly so as to assure that the craving for salt dissipates alongside it.
These are just a few of the main tips for reducing sodium consumption. Although we live in a society that uses and consumes salt in an excessive manner, it is not impossible to take ownership of our own intake so long as we are diligent, responsible, and have a plan.