Salt, or sodium chloride, is essential to the body. The sodium in salt helps transmit nerve impulses and contract muscle fibers.
It also teams up with potassium in the body to balance fluid levels. But the body only needs a small amount, less than one-tenth of a teaspoon, of salt in order to do this. Unfortunately, the typical American diet comes from prepared and processes foods that are usually loaded with salt.
The average American consumes nearly 20 times the amount of salt it needs. We often don’t realize that our daily diets are filled with common salty culprits, such as smoked, cured and luncheon meats, canned and dry soups, snack foods, pizza, fast foods, canned juices, and a slew of salty condiments and sauces, that can wreak havoc on the body.
Although the body is designed to rid itself of any excess sodium, for some people, consuming extra sodium makes the body hold onto water. When this happens, the increasing amount of fluid that is flowing through the vessels can increase blood pressure. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a leading cause of heart disease. When blood pressure gets too high, damage occurs in many organs such as the heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes.
“A few simple healthy changes can help you control the amount of salt you’re getting in your diet.”
Here are some ways to cut salt, but not flavor, when preparing meals:
Spice things up!
Add a punch of flavor to your favorite dishes with citrus, vinegars, fresh herbs and dried spices. There’s a wide variety of salt-free spice blends that are commercially available that can add a blast of flavor to everything from meats and vegetables.
Sear, sauté, and roast
Try searing or sautéing foods in a small amount of olive oil to seal in their natural juices and flavor. Roasting can enhance the natural sweetness of vegetables and the savory taste of poultry and fish. Finish off with salt-free spices, herbs, and citrus zest to further enhance taste without adding any extra salt.
Use healthy fats
Avocados and olive, soybean, and canola oils can add great flavor to your dishes. Nuts make delicious additions to meals too – just be sure to read labels carefully because they are often packaged with added salt!
Salt is needed for bread to rise properly so be cautious of your bread choices. Even whole-grain bread can contain considerable amounts of sodium. You may want to get some of your daily amount of whole-grains from other sources such as steel-cut oats, farro, quinoa, and barley – to name a few. Fruits, nuts, and legumes are other great sources of whole-grain. Aim to eat them as close as they are found in nature as possible. Be aware that canned versions can be loaded with added sodium.
This time of year you can scour the local farmer’s markets for fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. Shop for peak-of-the-season produce and raw ingredients with maximum natural flavor so you don’t have to do much to prepare them – and you’ll be avoiding the need to reach for the salt shaker.
A few simple healthy changes can help you control the amount of salt you’re getting in your diet. Following and maintaining a low-sodium diet can help reduce blood pressure, and when blood pressure is lowered, you have a lower risk of developing heart disease.
This Health & Wellness article is brought to you by Western Connecticut Health Network.