Salt Alternatives

November 18, 2013

Where does the majority of salt in our diet come from? You may be surprised. Find out here, and more...

It is a common misconception that the majority of our salt intake is due to a heavy handed sprinkling of salt from the table salt shaker. In fact, processed foods and snacks, prepared meals, and restaurant meals contribute to greater than 75 percent of our total daily sodium intake.

Keep in mind that sodium is critical for optimal functioning of the body. It is necessary for controlling fluid levels, nerve conduction, allowing certain nutrients into and out of cells, and assists in maintaining optimal blood pressure. Approximately 40 percent of the body’s sodium content is found in bone, some within organs and cells, and the remaining 55 percent can be found circulating in the blood plasma and extracellular fluid. The intestines absorb dietary sodium, while the kidneys excrete sodium into the urine; this balance is continually regulated by the kidneys and intestines.

Dairy, meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables naturally contain sodium. For example one cup of 1 percent low-fat milk contains 107 mg of sodium. But natural sources only contribute to about 5 percent of the average person’s total daily intake.

The major sodium offenders are processed foods — canned vegetables, soups, deli or lunch meats, processed cheese, savory snacks and frozen foods. Many pre-packaged meals can contain upwards of 1,000 mg of sodium per serving! Always read labels and compare similar products.

To lower your salt intake at home, try experimenting with spices and herbs such as rosemary, thyme, parsley, coriander, dill, basil, kelp, garlic, onion, and ginger. Sometimes adding salt to a dish is simply a lazy impulse — it's easy to forget that adding spices can transform the taste of formerly bland food and recipes.

To add an extra punch to chicken or fish, squeeze a little lemon juice and a splash of vinegar on top. You'll never know it's salt-free. SupermarketGuru also recommends sprinkling lightly toasted sesame seeds or flax seeds on top of finished plates, which can add an interesting flavor — and the unique crunch adds an extra dimension to the texture (not to mention the added nutrition!)

Go ahead and try low sodium foods at the market; and read labels for those products not labeled low sodium, you may be surprised about how little or how much sodium these foods contain. When you start cutting down on your sodium intake; soon, you won't miss it at all. You'll be on the path to a better diet and, along the way you'll discover new spices and food flavors that are healthier and more enjoyable.

Adding more veggies to your diet is another way to mitigate the effects of a high sodium diet. The potassium rich fruits and veggies help balance the sodium from other foods. But just because you eat a lot of produce does not give you the free pass to eat high sodium junk!

As always, speak with your health care practitioner before making any dietary changes, as decreasing sodium or a low sodium diet is not appropriate for everyone. As mentioned above, sodium is a critical electrolyte that helps with nerve and muscle function as well as maintaining blood pressure.