Give me a choice between sweet and salty, and I’ll happily select the latter. I have a thing for salt — a big thing. I’ve discovered there is more to life than the Morton’s table salt we grew up with. My cabinets now overflow with kosher salt, coarse sea salt, Maldon sea salt, sel gris (French grey sea salt), hickory- and mesquite-smoked salts, and salts infused with pink peppercorns, rosemary, and mushrooms. See? A big, big thing…
Our bodies need salt’s sodium for muscle contractions, nerve transmissions, maintaining pH balance, and hydration. It also regulates the fluid outside our cells. But too much of this good thing can lead to high blood pressure and increase your risks of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease.
How much sodium is too much?
The American Heart Association says most Americans consume 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day — more than twice the 1,500 milligrams it recommends. And it’s no wonder: One fast food burger can contain more than 100% of the sodium we should be eating. Even a single slice of bread can contain more than 200 milligrams of sodium. Dang.
The AHA web site also shares some astounding facts:
“It is estimated that if Americans cut their average sodium intake by more than half – to an average of 1,500 milligrams a day – there would be a nearly 26 percent decrease in high blood pressure and a savings of more than $26 billion in healthcare costs over just a year.”
With high rates of heart disease and stroke and out-of-control healthcare costs, these facts are relevant.
How can you manage your sodium intake?
It’s up to you to know how much sodium you’re consuming. Here are three simple ways to get started:
- Obviously, start reading your nutrition labels — sodium content is clearly stated. If you haven’t paid attention before, you will likely be surprised at the high sodium content in some of your favorite soups, chips, and crackers. Watch out for frozen foods too. You can also use Fooducate’s apps — they’ll warn you if the food you are considering has too much salt.
- Stock your pantry with more than just table salt. 1 teaspoon of Morton’s table salt has 2,360 milligrams of sodium. The same amount of Diamond Crystal kosher salt contains 1,120. This is mostly a result of the texture difference between the two: kosher salt crystals are larger and coarser than table salt’s. But you will add less sodium using a pinch, dash, or teaspoon of kosher salt over table salt. (Plus, the flavor is better in my opinion.)
- Beware of the Salty Six. The American Heart Association recommends you be particularly diligent about sodium in six food categories.
- Breads and rolls: As stated earlier, a single slice can contain more than 200 milligrams of sodium.
- Cold cuts and cured meats: Six thin slices of deli meat can account for half of your daily recommended sodium amount.
- Pizza: The AHA recommends limiting the cheese and adding more veggies to your favorite pie.
- Poultry: Processing can add significant sodium content so choose carefully.
- Soup: You’ll be shocked when you start reading their labels.
- Sandwiches: In particular, fast food burgers and sandwiches can take you well over 1,500 grams a day
If you already watch sodium intake, do you have other tips for our readers? And if you are astounded by the amount of sodium in your foods, let us know which ones and how you plan to substitute healthier options.
Image Credit: SoraZG via flickr/CC