Salt is an important component of your diet. It helps you maintain your bodily fluid balance and regulates your blood pressure. Salt is sometimes referred to as sodium. This is because salt is the main dietary source of sodium in most diets.
There are some varieties of salt containing other minerals, such as calcium, potassium or zinc. Salt is a common ingredient in food, since it has a strong flavor, and a few pinches of salt are enough to enhance the flavor of a meal.
Salt comes in different forms, such as ordinary table salt, kosher salt, sea salt, etc. Each type has a slightly different taste, texture and flavor. Overall, salt has many health benefits, but it is still possible to ingest too much of it, especially if you are unaware of how common salt is in your meals. Fortunately, there are several ways you can make better dietary choices when it comes to salt intake so you can prevent its dangerous effects on your health.
Why is reducing salt intake important?
Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, and high blood pressure is one of the major contributing factors. High blood pressure has several adverse effects on the body, including increasing the likelihood of strokes, dementia and even kidney disease. Changing your diet can make a huge difference in reducing high blood pressure.
Specifically, reducing salt intake has been shown to lower blood pressure. This is because a high intake of salt creates excess fluid in your circulatory system, leading to a spike in blood pressure. By reducing your salt intake, you lower the risk of high blood pressure, which in turn decreases your risk of heart disease, among many other serious medical conditions.
Eating at Restaurants
Eating too much salt does not typically come as the result of overusing the salt shaker during your meals. The largest contributor to excess salt consumption comes from salt added to processed foods and restaurant foods. In fact, approximately 75 percent of the salt most Americans eat comes from these sources. Therefore, it is important to keep tabs on what you are eating when you dine out.
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Do not be afraid of making requests at restaurants. You can simply ask for your meal to be made without excess salt. By law, chain restaurants operating on more than 20 premises are required to give nutritional information about the food being served, including the sodium content. If you do not see it listed on the menu, ask the staff for more information.
Alternatively, you could cut down the portion size. You can either share one dish with a friend or you could eat half the meal and ask for the other half to be placed in a to-go box, so you can eat it later. Avoid adding salt from the shaker to your restaurant meal. If you think the dish needs more taste, add black pepper or lemon juice instead of salt.
Restaurant foods generally low in salt content include baked, poached, roasted, steamed or grilled dishes. Dishes containing the following words frequently have a higher salt content:
- Au jus.
When buying food at your local supermarket or store, you can do two things to reduce your salt intake. The first is to avoid pre-made and processed foods altogether, as most have a high salt content. The second is to look at the labels on the food you wish to purchase in order to know how much salt is in the product. Some of the processed foods with high salt contents include the following:
- Canned, smoked or salted meats and fish
- Processed cheeses
- Canned soups
- Salted peanut butter
- Mixed pasta dishes, like lasagna
When examining labels on foods, look for the words “no salt added.” This does not mean the product is necessarily salt-free, but it does mean no salt was added during processing. Other terms to look out for include “low-sodium,” “very low sodium,” “sodium-free,” “light sodium” and “lightly salted.” All these terms mean there is less salt in the product than the regular version of the product.
A good rule to follow is not to purchase products if the amount of sodium in milligrams is higher than the total calories. For example, if a bottle of ketchup has 50 calories per serving and 250 mg of sodium, it is far too much. Another way of finding food products with low salt content is to look for products with the American Heart Association’s heart-check mark.
Preparing your own meals, rather than eating processed and prepackaged meals, is a great way of reducing your salt intake. This is because you are in control of which foods you eat and how you prepare them. As a result, you not only control the level of salt in your meals, but you can also include other healthy alternatives. Here are some great tips to reduce the amount of salt in the meals you prepare:
- Drain and rinse canned vegetables and pulses (beans, peas, etc.). By doing this, you cut the salt content by up to 40 percent.
- Reduce the amount of salt you add yourself. If you think your dish could do with a little more flavor, use alternatives to salt, such as herbs, spices, garlic and onions.
- Cook foods by roasting, grilling, braising, sautéing and searing. These methods bring out the natural flavors of the food so that you do not need to add salt.
- Cook foods with potassium. Foods with potassium help counter the effects of sodium. These foods include potatoes, sweet potatoes, kidney beans, tomatoes, cantaloupe, bananas and oranges.
You can find plenty of healthy salt substitutes. Many of these products work by replacing some or all of the sodium with potassium instead. Overall, potassium is a healthy alternative, though potassium intake can have implications for some medical conditions or medications. Speak to a health care professional to see if a salt substitute is the right course of action for you before you begin the process of consuming more potassium.
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