The average American consumes almost 50% more salt than is generally recommended. That’s according to the CDC’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which advises a daily intake of no more than 2,300mg of sodium, or roughly one teaspoon. But 90% of us are consuming 3,400mg – one of the key mineral components we find in salt – every day.
Why the fuss? Sodium, after all, is vitally important to our health. It maintains the normal functioning of our cells, aids the smooth transmission of nerve impulses, and ensures that essential nutrients reach the parts of our bodies that need them.
The problem is that too much sodium has been linked time and again to major health risks, such as hypertension, heart disease and stroke. In the U.S. alone, 1 in 3 people are suffering from high blood pressure (and the figure pushes higher, if you’re African-American).
Reducing Your Salt Intake
Ninety-five percent of the sodium in our diet comes from salt – so naturally, the first step towards reducing our sodium intake would be to limit how much salt we’re eating in the first place.
‘I’ll put down my salt shaker then, problem solved!’
If only it were as simple as that. The thing is, the salt we eat at the dinner table is not the enemy here – it’s the stuff we find in processed food on our supermarket shelves, and in restaurant meals (which contribute to 70% of sodium regularly consumed).
How do you caution against overindulging on something that is concealed within the food we eat every day? I decided to find out, by embarking on a “no to low salt” diet. Here’s what I learned along the way…
Day 1 – Substitution
I spent a lot of time checking nutrition labels. The verdict? I eat too much salt.
I work long hours as a waitress, so my go-to meal for lunch is a ham and cheese bagel – quick, filling, and easy to make. But the CDC says it’s grains, baked goods and meats that are mostly responsible for our high sodium intake, because we eat these frequently.
Rather than cut them out altogether, I simply made some adjustments. I swapped my cereal for unsalted porridge at breakfast, then replaced cheese and ham with roasted bell peppers and avocado in my bagel.
Spending ten minutes researching low-sodium foods was easy to do, and lent itself well to this method of substitution.
Day 2 – Seasoning
I treated myself to eggs for breakfast and – all joking aside – had never truly valued the importance of pepper in adding some ‘va-va-voom!’ until that moment. It got me thinking about alternative ways I could add flavour to my food.
For thousands of years, we have used salt in cooking – and for good reason! It’s a natural binding agent, and enhances sweetness as well as suppresses bitter flavours. But it tends to overpower other tastes when used in excess…
Guilty, as charged. Tonight, I flavoured my boring tomato pasta with fresh basil, garlic and black pepper. Though I missed something of the saltiness, it was tasty nonetheless.
Day 3 – Potassium
At work, I listened in horror to customers repeatedly requesting more salt to accompany their fries – despite that these had already been tossed in the stuff during preparation. I couldn’t blame them for their taste immunity. We grew up in a culture of eating refined, processed foods to accommodate for increasingly busy lifestyles, after all (Pot Noodle, is that you?).
By that same standard, we are failing to consume enough unrefined, sodium-free foods, rich in potassium – a mineral that lowers blood pressure. These include fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.
You know the drill. It was goodbye lunchtime snack of potato chips for me – hello apple!
Day 4 – The Takeaway
After just four days of limiting my sodium intake, I was noticing a difference. For one thing, I felt less bloated, and for another I could taste everything so much more. Mashed potato actually has a flavour, who knew?
For those of you doubting the safety of cutting out sodium altogether…don’t! Because that’s virtually impossible to do. With sodium occurring naturally in most things we eat, there’s no harm in reducing your intake. Bizarrely, by avoiding ready-made meals and reducing my consumption of salt, an ingredient so integral to cooking, I’m discovering a whole world of food and flavour that I never knew before.