“Instead of using canned ingredients for soups, how about going with real ingredients to cut down on sodium? See more healthy soups and sandwiches pictures.©iStockphoto.com/Lauri Patterson
In the scope of things, you could say we’re blessed with the problem of too much sodium in our diets. That may sound odd, but consider that too much sodium is a much easier problem to fix than too little sodium, which is what more people have struggled with throughout most of history.
Sodium is an essential nutrient in our bodies for maintaining water balance in our cells (in addition to other functions). A healthy amount is about 500 milligrams of sodium per day, but no more than 2,400 milligrams. Unfortunately, research has found that too much sodium in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, which puts you at a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and heart failure.
Salt, or sodium chloride, is about 40 percent sodium and has been useful as an effective food preservative. That’s partly why most processed foods sold in supermarkets and fast food joints are chock-full of sodium. Americans get 75 percent of their sodium from processed foods, according to the American Heart Association.
So, if you’re feeling down because the doctor just told you to cut down on your salt intake, look on the bright side. The good news is that you can replace salt with a plethora of available spices and flavors. And, what’s more, you’ll soon reduce your taste for salt with a healthy low-sodium regimen.
- Spice Things Up
- Use Fresh Ingredients
- Avoid Certain Foods
- Use Low-sodium Substitutes
- Understanding Low-sodium Labels
5: Spice Things Up
Let’s face it: Low-sodium dishes can be tasteless — especially when you’re addicted to salt. We instinctively turn to the table salt as an easy antidote to bland food. However, if you’re willing to be a little creative and open to other flavors, you’ll find countless ways to spice up your meals. You’ll soon wean yourself off of the salt-shaker and may even discover new favorite seasonings and flavors.
Take advantage of the dozens of herbs and spices carried in your local grocery store that can add a little zing to your meals. Some of the most popular herbs include basil, oregano, thyme and cilantro. Besides the dried varieties, the fresh herbs in the produce section hold a more vibrant flavor. To save money, you may consider starting your own herb garden so you’ll always have fresh herbs at hand.
In the spice aisle, consider paprika, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and, of course, pepper. If you want your food to pack a punch, consider cayenne pepper and blends like curry or chili powder. Low-sodium cookbooks will suggest particular spice blends as substitutes for salt.
But be sure to look beyond spices and herbs to ingredients like onions, garlic and lemons, all of which add kick to dishes and are popular substitutes for salt.
To Spice or Not to Spice
Be careful when seeking refuge from sodium in the spice aisle. Many popular spice blends, like chili powder, can contain sodium. And products like garlic salt and celery salt are not substitutes — they’re simply flavored salts.
4: Use Fresh Ingredients
We can easily eat a healthy amount of sodium without ever using salt. That’s because many foods we eat, such as meat, eggs and milk, contain sodium naturally. (Vegetables are typically low in sodium, except for a few, like spinach and beets.) The trick is to try to avoid all those ingredients with added salt and sodium, which can be harder than it sounds.
Salt protects food from spoiling quickly because it dehydrates cells, making it inhospitable for bacteria. And because salt is such an effective preservative, it’s cost-effective for manufacturers to add it to their products. However, if you’re able to get fresh ingredients and use them soon after you buy them, you can avoid this problem.
So, before you head to the middle aisles of the grocery store with all of the prepared or canned foods, first scour your produce section for everything on your list that you can buy fresh. This includes both fruits and vegetables. Admittedly, it takes more prep time to work with fresh produce, and it might be a little pricier. However, it’s worth it to fix a dangerously high-sodium diet. And most people believe that fresh ingredients taste better, too.
Water, Water Everywhere
If you do consume a lot of sodium, one of the best things you can do is to drink water. Try to drink eight glasses of fresh water a day. It flushes sodium out and reduces bloating.
3: Avoid Certain Foods
As we’ve seen, a low-sodium diet isn’t too difficult. Using other flavors and fresh ingredients may even make some meals taste better than before. However, we can’t sugarcoat the bad news: There are certain foods, perhaps some of your favorites, that you should avoid.
Salt can play an important part in making certain foods, like fluffy breads and pickles. Sodium is also used to cure meats, especially ham, and lunch meats can be loaded with high amounts of sodium. Capers, olives and condiments, such as ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, are all high in sodium, too.
Canned soups, and indeed most canned foods in general, have sky-high sodium content. Health experts say that if you must work with canned vegetables, be sure to drain and rinse them thoroughly. This simple step can drastically reduce the sodium content.
Love soup? Can’t live without your bread? All is not lost. We’ll go over some alternatives and solutions on the next page.
You’d be surprised at the different sources of sodium in your diet. For instance, many pharmaceutical drugs contain significant amounts of sodium. Tap water may also contain sodium. If you use a water softener, this will add more sodium. When you’re on a strict sodium diet, bypass your water softener and use a water filter before you drink or cook with tap water.
2: Use Low-sodium Substitutes
Many people simply don’t do well with drastic changes. If you love putting ketchup on everything and are suddenly told you have to stop cold turkey, it can be jarring. But take heart: If you don’t like the idea of changing your diet entirely, you do have other options.
To help wean yourself off of salt, invest a few more minutes in each aisle of the grocery store. You might find that many of your favorite condiments are available in low-sodium form. Instead of grabbing the standard bottle of ketchup, search the shelves for the "no salt added" variety. You can even find low-sodium soy sauce and rice vinegar as well as other condiments in many places.
Believe it or not, soup and bread are not necessarily off the table for you, either. And making your own is a great way to control the sodium content. Low-sodium bouillon is available to let you make your own healthy soup. And it’s possible to use sodium-free baking powder and baking soda when baking bread. But don’t expect salt-free breads to be fluffy — they tend to come out of the oven dense.
Although they’re increasingly popular, low-sodium ingredients may still be hard to find in certain areas. If so, consider shopping online for these products from trusted Web sites.
Substitutes for salt itself do exist, many of which contain potassium chloride. The FDA says that although these may be safe for healthy people, those with conditions like heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease shouldn’t take them.
1: Understanding Low-sodium Labels
Nutrition information, including sodium content, is readily available on most store-bought food. If your doctor has given you a daily sodium limit, it’s important to read the table on the back of a product carefully. Take serving size into account when you calculate how much sodium you’ll end up consuming — whether you will eat more or less than the estimated serving size should factor into your daily sodium total.
Now that research is revealing the dangers of a high sodium diet, the market for low-sodium foods is growing, and food manufacturers are taking advantage of it. This is both good and bad. Although it’s great that low-sodium options are easier to find, you need to be careful and familiarize yourself with the terminology.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines how manufacturers can advertise their sodium content. For instance, a label that says "no salt added" may contain salt that’s naturally part of the food — just without the salt that’s otherwise added. "Reduced sodium" means that the product has 25 percent less sodium than the original product. If the product has 140 milligrams or less per serving, it can be advertised as "low-sodium"; if it has 35 milligrams or less, you’ll see "very low-sodium." "Sodium free" doesn’t necessarily mean zero milligrams, but it does mean less than 5 milligrams.
Eventually, your tastes will adapt, the sodium withdrawal will pass, and you’ll soon find that a little salt goes a long way.
An Extra Dash
Although package instructions often call for you to add salt when preparing things like pasta and hot cereals, health experts say to resist this temptation and go without.
Lots More Information
- 5 Sodium-free Foods for Dinner
- How Salt Works
- 5 Sodium Myths Debunked
- American Heath Association. "Cooking for Lower Cholesterol: Reducing sodium." Updated Nov. 3, 2010. (Nov. 5, 2010.)http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Cooking-for-Lower-Cholesterol_UCM_305630_Article.jsp
- American Heart Association. "The New American Heart Association Cookbook." Clarkson Potter Publishers, 7th Ed., 1998.
- FDA. "Lowering Salt in Your Diet." U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Last updated Nov. 5, 2010. (Nov. 5, 2010.)http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm181577.htm
- Gittleman, Ann Louise. "Get the Salt Out." Random House, Inc., 1996. (Nov. 5, 2010)http://books.google.com/books?id=9qbuqxEEidAC
- James, Shelly Vaughan. Heidi McIndoo. "Complete Idiot’s Guide to Low-Sodium Meals." Penguin, 2006. (Nov. 5, 2010.)http://books.google.com/books?id=BQulRmsonP8C
- Stanfield, Peggy, Y. H. Hui. "Nutrition and Diet Therapy: Self-Instructional Appraches." Jones & Barlett Learning, 2009. (Nov. 5, 2010).http://books.google.com/books?id=pwRuOaqCNwIC