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November 7, 2013

3 Ways to Reduce the Sodium Load in Our Diets.

I write this piece nearly a week into battling one of the worst colds I have ever encountered.

(Think of the worst cold you’ve ever had, multiply it by 10, and it still isn’t close to what I am feeling.)

Whenever I am sick with anything, my appetite tends to go out of the window, and this time was no exception. I forced myself to eat and for the better part of a week, I lived primarily on soup. While I would have loved to have made my own homemade soups, the reality is that in between work, raising a daughter, etc. I didn’t have the time.

Therefore, nearly every soup I ingested came either from cans or cartons, albeit from natural food stores.

Despite choosing those specifically labeled “reduced sodium” and/or “no added salt,” the truth is I was ingesting a lot of sodium—way more than I usually do. Two days in, I was starting to bear an uncanny resemblance to the Stay-Puff Marshmallow man’s long-lost sister.

Puffiness aside, most of us are already aware that too much sodium is bad for us. While many are aware that high sodium intake is the number one cause of high blood pressure, few know that it can also lead to osteoporosis and even breathing difficulties.

On the flip side, too little sodium can be life-threatening, but the fact is most of us need to be worried about consuming too much vs. too little.

While many people use salt and sodium interchangeably, they are not the same thing.

Simply put, sodium is an element that is 100 percent sodium whereas salt is a compound of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.

Despite what you may believe, salt is not the main source of sodium for most people’s diets nor are salty snacks, like potato chips, salted popcorn, etc.

In fact, one of the biggest sources of sodium is bread. Other surprising sources include chicken, packaged cereals, vegetable juices and spaghetti sauce.

While one should not become obsessed with reading labels and calculating every bit of sodium that goes into the body, there are some simple, easy things we all can do to curb the sodium levels in our daily diet. (The current recommended daily allowance is roughly one teaspoon of salt.)

Therefore, put the salt shaker down for a minute or two and read the tips below on how we can all keep our sodium levels healthy:

1. Stop automatically salting your food every time you eat.

This was a hard one for me to break. I grew up in a household where my mother would often salt sandwiches. The truth is, most food does not need a lot of salt. Plus, a lot of other things can be used besides salt to season food: pepper, herbs, lemon juice, etc. Most of these have little to no sodium.

Experimenting with various herbs can be a lot of fun and can make us feel like gourmets no matter how limited our culinary skills actually are.

If you have the room, grow your own herbs. Otherwise buy them in bulk at the local health food store. It’s much cheaper to do either option than to buy those pre-filled glass jars at the supermarket which, depending on the brand, many contain preservatives and yes, even salt.

2. Try to eat processed food as infrequently as possible.

As I mentioned, pre-made soup is notoriously high in sodium. However, deli meats, soft drinks, frozen meals, bakery goods and instant mashed potatoes are all high on the sodium scale as well. (In fact, some frozen meals may actually exceed the recommended daily allowance.)

Whenever possible, make your own or at least limit your consumption of these so you aren’t eating processed foods every day. (If it’s possible to limit it to once a month or hardly ever, then that’s even better.)

One thing to keep in mind, though, if you are making soup and using pre-made stock is that many kinds—even organic and natural ones—are still high in sodium. Read the labels. This brings me to my next point.

3. Don’t mistake “natural”, “organic”, or “no-added salt” for low-sodium.

By now, many know that “natural” does not always equal healthy. (After all, sodium is 100 percent natural.)  Also, it bears repeating that salt is not the same as sodium. It’s possible to eat a high sodium food and not even be aware of it because it does not taste salty or it is not a food we think of as being naturally high in sodium. (For example, I was surprised to learn that eggs and celery are surprisingly high in sodium.)

Lastly, all that sodium does tend to add up. Just because you skip the canned soup and lunch meat, but continue to consume food that is moderate to high in sodium, does not mean you’re reducing your sodium intake.

Those who are really concerned or have a family history of high blood pressure may do well to keep a food journal.

Just like too much of anything, too much sodium in our diets can be a bad thing. While it’s not possible (nor desirable) to cut out all sodium from our diets, there are steps we can take to lower our overall loads without sacrificing flavor and without obsessing over everything we eat or drink.

The saying “an ounce of prevention is equal to a pound of cure” is especially fitting here. Try some of these tips today—your present and future body will thank you.

 

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

 {Photo: Flickr.}

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