Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pass On the Salt

A couple of posts back I mentioned that I never use salt in cooking, and the only time I ever use it at the table is on chips (French fries), and Emiline asked me why? To be honest, it was always just a matter of personal preference, and it wasn’t until I decided to write an article about it that I discovered the American Medical Association is advocating a low salt diet. I wrote this article two years ago, and never succeeded in getting it published, so here it is.

Pass On the Salt

It is not a new health threat. Doctors have been advising us to reduce our salt consumption for years. Yet salt is set to become the latest bad boy on the dietary chopping block. In 2006 the American Medical Association called for drastic reductions in the amount of salt we eat. They agree that excess salt contributes to high blood pressure. This in turn leads to hypertension, and can ultimately result in heart disease, still the number one killer in America today.

How much salt is too much?

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the human body requires a minimum of 500 milligrams of sodium per day to maintain health. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, sets a maximum limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, (or approximately 1 teaspoon of salt). The levels for adults over fifty, and people with high blood pressure, cardiac disease, or other medical conditions are actually much lower, 1,500 milligrams per day.

Most Americans, however, consume as much as two or three times the maximum recommended dose of sodium every day. The main reason for this is our over-reliance on convenience, restaurant, and fast food. Pre-prepared foods are loaded with salt.

Dr. Rohack, a practicing cardiologist and board member of the American Medical Association explains, "Just one cup of canned soup can contain more than 50 percent of the FDA recommended daily allowance. A serving of lasagna in a restaurant can put a diner over their recommended daily sodium allowance in just one meal. These examples stress the importance of a national reduction in the amount of sodium in processed and restaurant foods."

Why are so many of us addicted to salt?

The human body requires salt or sodium to maintain good health, and since prehistoric times, man has obtained salt naturally from the foods he ate. But, despite being one of the most common minerals on earth, salt wasn’t widely used as a food additive and preservative until the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese learned how to mine it. The high cost of transportation, however, made salt a very valuable commodity, so much so, that Roman soldiers received part of their pay in salt. The English word salary is derived from the Latin, salarium, meaning salt. Salt was such a valuable commodity because of its importance as a food preservative, and preserving food was essential to survival.

Yet, despite modern day refrigeration practices, our love affair with salt continues. The main reason for this is we are usually exposed to salt at an early age and that predilection continues throughout our lives. Even if you eat a diet of fresh meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables, and don’t add salt to your food, you are still exposed to high levels of sodium in: breakfast cereals, bread, cookies, cheese and salty snacks, such as potato chips and nuts.

How can I reduce the amount of salt in my diet?

Until the American Medical Association’s recommendations for a 50% reduction in the amount of sodium in processed and restaurant food are adhered to, the only way to reduce your sodium intake is to retrain your taste buds to prefer less salt.

Expect that it may take several weeks for your palate to adjust, but if you persevere, you will find your tolerance for salty foods diminishes. If you have ever given up taking sugar in your tea and coffee you will understand that it only takes a week or two before sugary drinks become unpalatable.

Healthier alternatives do exist that can add flavor to your food without recourse to salt. Experiment with fresh herbs, spices, and citrus fruits in your recipes.

Doctors agree that following a low-sodium diet is one of the most beneficial things you can do for the health of your heart. So, don’t wait for the American Medical Association’s recommendations to become law. Take control of your eating habits now. Eat a healthy diet of fresh meat, fish, and produce, and avoid convenience and fast food. You owe it to yourself and to your heart.

Tips on reducing your salt intake:

  1. Read the labels on the products you buy to check for high sodium levels. The amount of sodium quoted is per serving, not per box or can.
    As a rough guideline:
    If a product contains 500 milligrams of sodium or more per 100 grams that is a
    lot of salt.
    If a product contains 100 milligrams of sodium or less per 100 grams that is a little salt.
  2. Buy low or no sodium products whenever possible.
  3. Experiment with herbs and spices.
  4. When ordering food in restaurants ask the chef not to add salt to your meal.
  5. When visiting fast food chains ask for information on the nutritional values of their products, or check out their web sites.
  6. If after several weeks, lack of salt still causes culinary consternation, add salt at the table rather than in the cooking process. That way you will still get the salty taste you crave, but the level of sodium will actually be much less. And, always taste your food before you reach for the salt shaker.


Lisa said...

Good advice.

Cheryl said...

Interesting, as a diabetic I also have high blood pressure and LOVE salt! good advice...

Emiline said...

You're like my sister..she never puts salt on anything.

I'm the opposite. Please help me! I'm addicted to salt.

I'll try and cut down.

Raquel said...

You go Jan, I never cook with salt either. A lot of times I will post recipes with salt in them but unless it is baking, I usually omit the salt. Much love, Raquel XO

Beth said...

Great article. I never add salt to my plate, but I do still use it in cooking (water for cooking veggies, pasta, rice etc) - will try and make an effort to cut down!!

Paula said...

Good reminder. I use sea salt and tell myself that it's not as bad. Sigh. I have no trouble whatsoever not using sugar, but salt is tougher. I use very, very little, but enjoy every little bit!

Pam said...

Oh bummer. I love salt but I know that it's not good to use too much. Great information Jan.

Dhanggit said...

i definitely agree with you on this :-) and besides most of the food we cook they already contain their natural taste its just a matter of making them come out :-)

Candy said...

Nice article. I know I eat too much processed food with lots of salt, so I try not to add much to my cooking.

Denise said...

Hi Janet, this is a great article. From day to day I try to limit my salt intake. Even when I cook food at the small restaurant where I work I am always aware of how much salt I add to the dishes I prepare, trying to get by with very minimal usage. People don't seem to complain so it is a practice I don't intend to change. We put the salt shakers on the tables and I don't see many using them. I think many of us are trying, and reading articles like yours helps to reinforce our healthy habits. Thank you for writing such a wonderfully informative post.

Kevin said...

Nice post. Thanks for all of the info on salt.

Jan said...

I'm glad I gave most of you pause for thought here.

Raquel, I understand that you do need to use a little salt in bread and pastry. But if you don't use it in most of your recipes perhaps you might consider omitting it. :-)

Dhanggit, damn right, girl. :-)

Kevin, nice to have you back, though I'm sure you wish you were still in Greece.