November 05, 2009

Pass (on) the Salt

Photo: TooFarNorth

Did you dress up as a double-humped camel for this year's Halloween party and everyone kept asking where your costume was? Do you feel like you're retaining more water than the Hoover Dam without the increased hydroelectric benefit to your utility bill? Have you surpassed the Great Salt Lake as our country's largest inland salt water body? Does your blood pressure reading have the folks at NASA saying, "Man, that's high"? Have you been exercising and watching what you eat and STILL can't lose weight? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a sodium problem.

The salt from your shaker might be the least of your worries given the hidden sodium in many processed and restaurant foods (even if it doesn't taste salty - it's in there) - accounting for about 80% of our daily consumption. On average, we should only be taking in about 2300 milligrams (about one teaspoon) of salt a day. But as you might expect, we Americans like to do everything big and are actually consuming about 3400 mg a day. Our sodium intake has risen 55% in the last 35 years and shows no signs of abating. I wish the same could be said about my salary.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the most common danger associated with consuming too much salt. The AMA labeled the need to reduce sodium from our diets an "urgent" public health issue. But since when have we ever listened to advice that was good for us - especially when we insist that our food be as fast as the pace of our lives? But addressing this issue may not be as difficult as we think - and let's face it, we can all get on board with something that's easy. It just takes a bit of planning and awareness.

If perusing the nutritional labels of our food proves too taxing, then try this quick reference guide to see where your favorites fall on the sodium scale. You should really make yourself aware of what's in your food - besides your fork or spoon. You might even be surprised about some of the foods you're using if you're attempting to lose weight. For example, one cupt of 1% milk fat cottage cheese contains 918 mg (I never liked the stuff anyway) and 3 ounces of Alaskan King crab has 715 mg (no wonder it's so crabby). And one cup of canned baked beans for that all-important fiber? A mere 1,008 mg. Remember how we switched from the potato chips in the big Trans Fat Scare of a few years ago to the healtheir alternative of baked pretzels? Right. Well, ten of those hard plain salted alternatives have 1,029 mg. Some canned vegetable juice cocktails, while claiming to provide several servings of veggies in their drink, also contain 653 mg per cup. Tomato juice (in the can with salt added) has 877. Yeah, drinking your veggies seemed just a little too good to be true.

Kicking the can habit could spare you a lot of sodium. Three ounces of white tuna canned in water has 320 mg while raw albacore has 34. A like amount of canned salmon, 471, versus its cooked sockeye cousin at 56 is a no-brainer (even if it IS considered brain food). Non-canned beans, such as lentils cooked without salt, have a low per one cup serving of 4 mg. Now that's some change we can believe in.

Cooking family favorites that come in a box or can could be cooked from scratch with a lot less of the sodium involved. From scratch, you say? Who's got time for that?! I don't mean making everything from scratch, like the pasta or having your own free-range chicken farm, but the things you like in it or on it such as fresh veggies (vs canned) or cheese, oil, chicken, etc. There are also plenty of non-salt seasonings that could flavor up your meals, too.

Eatings foods that are high in potassium can have the reserve impact on your blood pressure than salt does. Here, unfortunately, the equation of how much we should get daily versus how much we do get is the inverse of the sodium math. We should get 4700 mg of potassium daily but typically average about 2300. Some good sources of potassium are apricots (not canned), bananas, spinach, tomatoes, lima beans and prunes. In the case of potassium (and some folks may have sensitivities to it), supplements are not good substitutes for the real McCoy. And as ever, a doctor or nutritionist are always the best sources of information concerning your health and diet.

So next Halloween, when you're recycling/reusing/repurposing or just plain wearing that camel costume again, I bet you'll need a name tag.


  1. I really like shopping at Hannaford's for this very reason. They have a starring system on foods in their store and it is more stringent than the FDA's. So at least when buying convenience foods and your eyes bug out at least the starring is right there on the shelf to tell you how it rated.

  2. I am a big label reader.. I don't really eat frozen or packaged food very often & I am not a salt user either.. I use the non salt seasonings. BUT, reading labels, I always look at sodium too.

    Now, saying that, I do have to be careful as I do work out pretty hard & you still need some sodium in your bod so it is something to know about if you are one that cuts back on salt big time! I know a guy that fainted & that went back to his sodium levels being to low.. he was too strict! Now, I realize this is the exception but for those that work out intensely & watch all this stuff, just something to think about...

  3. So true! Even foods that you'd think are low on sodium are packed with it--breakfast cereals, cookies, and other sweets. The worst offender? Mexican food. I love chips and salsa and tacos but eating out at a Mexican restaurant causes my hands to swell like a water balloon!

  4. ahhhh my beef jerky loving downfall.


  5. Aha! A lightbulb moment.
    Just come back from a holiday with much less control over the sodium in my diet. Happy and relaxed but feeling 'bellyful' and bloated again.
    That's it - thanks - you've just flagged up why for me. It's the salt!!! Back to the fresh fruit and veg for this fat lass. Get those sodium molecules out of my path!

  6. I find most everything too salty these days. I've noticed it since I started eating oatmeal for brekkie and at the same time decided to see what would happen if I cut out butter. I no longer crave salty snacks and my sweet tooth went dormant. It's kind of scary now as I don't know what to eat for lunch anymore.

  7. Great wake-up call. Thanks for the link. I'll be more mindful of labels.

    I notice when I eat something really salty, then I want to eat something really sweet and v.v. If I can start eating somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, maybe I can get my sweet tooth under control. I'll have to ponder that one.

    Word verification: taint

  8. Your water-retention examples totally cracked me up.

    I too find the sodium thing totally frustrating! I'm lazy and would love to eat more take out and "convenience" foods, but the high sodium levels freak me out.

    I can't seem to wean myself down to low enough levels without things tasting bland. One trick, if you can stand the slightly metallic tastes, is to use a light salt that's half potassium. I got used to that and use it for cooking and on the table.

  9.'s an issue up here in Canada. Apparently a lot of things here (even cereal) ahve WAY more salt.
    I usually cut out salt as mucha s I can and have found the flavour of foods to be so much fuller and better. It's odd to see when my parents (salt fiends) come to visit though - they put salt on their food without even tasting it first! I have a salt shaker just for them when they visit...

    I do find I crave salt every once in a while still (mmm...jerky and pretcels...) but it's amazing how much less water I can retain when I keep an eye on the salt.

  10. Salt is that evil, silent underminer, isn't it? Recently, I learned that the organic, otherwise "healthy" cottage cheese that I was paying big bucks for contained tons more sodium than Breakstones or other popular brands. Whaaaa....?

    We get bottled veggie juice because the hubs cannot bring himself to just eat his vegs. He then switched to low sodium. He about gagged. He just drinks it really fast now.

    Potassium is oh so important, especially for the ladies. Orange juice has a good amount as does yogurt.

  11. My dh used to salt everything...without even tasting it first, but I've broken him of that habit over the years but upping the variety & amount of herbs and "non-salt seasonings" when I cook.
    I've slowly backed away from cooking with added salt & rarely find myself reaching for salt anymore. A pinch here, a dash there is more than enough for an entire dish...and some don't need it at all.
    It does take time for your tastebuds to adjust but it goes both ways. We tried something the other day & I couldn't believe how overly salty it tasted - something that I never would have thought 6 months ago.

    Love the camel example. ;)

  12. Guilty. I love salty foods. I've gotten much better, but I love me some salt. Blood pressure's been just fine, though. It was, quite literally, 120/80 yesterday when I got my flu shot. Right on the money.


  13. If it "doesn't taste salty," even if the label says it's in there it's because you are addicted to salt!
    Once you break the addiction, you will find salt very bitter, and have no trouble tasting it, and being careful in the future.

    PS I advice people to check the new guidelines for BP. 120/80 is so yesterday. Now that value is considered pre-hypertensive :-(
    Sorry about that, I just report the news.

  14. Great information! How sad though. Really, some of that stuff is favorites. But, good point from Dr. J. I hope to re-train my body to not like it.
    Thanks :)

  15. Well then, I guess I'm screwed. At least I know that 120/80 is high for me, plus I had just driven 20 miles to get a shot, and I hate shots.

    Oh well.


  16. I always check the sodium content but I admit to never knowing what the actual milligram amount per day was supposed to be. Although, a nutritionist once told a running group I was in that if you're running and sweating a lot then you don't need to be as concerned with your sodium intake since you need to replenish what you sweat out. And since I sweat a lot AND don't particularly like the taste of salt, I don't mind too much when it's hidden.

  17. You guys crack me up!!

    Diana, you'll get the same enjoyment, just with less salt!

    Joshua, hopefully the flu shot for you will be like buying insurance, then never needing it. As for your BP, I think you are fine at 120/80 Actually, for most people it's always higher in the doctor's office, so yours is probably lower in the real world!

  18. i have low blood pressure... so low it didn't register once. salt is my friend.

  19. I love the informative but confession blog you have going here. Isn't that what blogging is all about. We are always confessing about how crapy we ate or how we hate to workout. The biggest question you hear after Halloween is "do 10 MINI snickers equal one big one." DO you know that the average person gains 10 LBS during the hoildays. Holy Crap!!! Who wants to be average?? Dang it I paid $200 for those designer jeans and I am going to wear them through the Holidays.

  20. I am a salt scofflaw. I like the stuff. I use it freely in cooking. And there's the hitch: I mostly eat food I made from scratch at home, mostly healthy and nutritious. Even using salt to taste I am still giving myself less salt than if I ate pre-made packaged foods.

    My BP is low-normal, I'm fit and healthy, and I get a good sweat going at least a few times a week.

    So, I just don't worry about salt.

  21. Table salt is sodium plus chloride. Plus some added iodine. If you try any of the natural salts like Himalayan pink salt or sea salts, they have dozens of trace minerals we need. (If you live near a Trader Joe's, they have a great himalayan salt in a grinder like a pepper mill for under $2.)

    The unnatural concentration of sodium in commercial table salt, plus the unnatural processing it's subjected to, are part of the problem.

    The other part is hydrogenated oils like corn, soy, and canola, which debilitate the cell's natural metabolic functions, causing more sodium to be held inside the cells than is healthy.


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