In the past few years, Americans' sodium intake has skyrocketed becoming a major contributor to our growing health problems. High sodium intake increases our risk of high blood pressure which puts us at an even higher risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Despite health officials nagging us year after year to cut back, we haven't been paying much attention. The average person consumes about 3,400 mg of salt per day....according to guidelines we are suppose to be aiming for about 1,500 mg.
Many people will tell me they don't add salt to their food. Where's is it all coming from? Processed and prepared foods account for 77% of all sodium consumed. As we eat more and more convenient and prepared foods, from snack foods in supermarkets to restaurant and take-out meals, our sodium levels are skyrocketing. If you read the labels in the supermarket, it's easy to find 1,000 mg of sodium PER SERVING--you can find DOUBLE that amount in restaurant foods. The top sources of sodium intake in the US are: yeast breads, chicken and chicken dishes, pizza, pasta and pasta dishes, cold cuts, condiments, Mexican dishes, sausage, hot dogs, bacon, ribs, CHEESE, bakery desserts, soups, and beef dishes.
Instead of relying on prepared foods, get into the kitchen and start cooking up delicious, plant-powered foods and try really flavorful herbs and spices to do the seasoning. If you are just starting out trying to lower your sodium intake, it might take you a little while to figure this out and get accustomed to lower sodium dishes. However, once you eat this way for a while, and then taste something with a lot of salt, you won't believe you used to like that! The salt will be over-powering.
Here are some tips for lowering your salt intake:
- Cook real food at home more often. Prepare meals from scratch--no box or frozen convenience foods. To drastically reduce your sodium intake, beware of restaurant foods.
- Do you own sodium comparison. You'll find a wide variety of sodium levels in foods at the market. For example, a jar of pasta sauce can contain anywhere from 40-800 mg of sodium PER SERVING. Read the labels!
- Watch out for "hidden" salt stashes. Believe it or not, the #1 source of sodium in our diets is yeast bread! Not to mention it's easy to eat multiple servings during the day. Other hidden surprises include salsa and salad dressings. So, read the label before dropping those foods in your shopping cart.
- Push the fruits and vegetables. If you pile your plate high with simply prepared fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, you're filling up with low-sodium healthy foods.
- Meat and faux meat--BEWARE. One of the major sources of sodium in the US diet is animal foods. Processed, smoked, and cured meats are extremely high in sodium, and even "plain" meats such as pork, poultry, and fish are often marinated and injected with high-sodium liquids. Also, many plant-powered diets include faux meats that are very high in sodium--again, read the labels.
- Check out restaurant websites for nutrition information. Do some menu planning before you dine out--you might be surprised at what you find!
- Focus on whole-food snacks. Processed snacks like crackers, cookies and desserts can add another unwanted pile of sodium to your day. Instead eat fresh fruits, unsalted popcorn, or a handful of unsalted nuts.
- Keep portion size in check. Every time you double up on the suggested serving size of food, (that's REALLY EASY to do), you are doubling the sodium level too. Remember, if you are eating plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, etc., you don't have to worry about sodium because it's not there.
- Cut back on condiments. From marinades and salad dressing to ketchup and soy sauce, keep an eye on how much sodium you slather on your favorite foods.
Tomorrow I will give you some tips on herbs and spices and how to use them instead of that salt