Salty Situation

It’s that little bottle that sits on your table, counter or stovetop.

Maybe it’s from Tiffany’s, maybe it’s from the clearance aisle of Target – no matter where it’s from that shaker holds the same thing – salt. A staple in pretty much everyone’s diet, this ingredient masquerades as a simple table seasoning… but it’s actually the main player in American’s latest health battle.

When the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010” comes out at the end of this year, it’s expected to recommend that even healthy folks consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily. This is astronomically less than what was recommended even just five years ago in 2005. Also as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama has called for a salt cut out as well.

While1,500 mg might seem like a hefty serving… it’s just about the equivalent of a teaspoon. And just what dangers lurk in that microscopic serving? Besides the obvious increased water weight, excess salt can lead to high blood pressure and hypertension. Big problems from a little “seasoning.”

So cut it out!

Be a Salt Scout

This fact’s going to be a trip – only about 10% of the salt we consume comes from our own salt shakers and the amount we put in our own cooking. A whopping 80% comes from the processed and fast “convenience” foods that we all inevitably end up relying on sometimes.

Of course there’s been initiatives to try and get the fast and packaged food companies to cut back on the salty stuff. Their argument for not wanting to do it is simple – they claim the food just won’t taste good. Survive dining it as best you can by requesting no additional salt on your food (even if it just spares you the extra pat of salt the waiter throws on before dropping the plate at your table.) Since tons of salt comes from the preservatives and sauces that make fast food possible, going to a restaurant with fresher food and product obviously will spare you some salt, but you still won’t be able to see for sure just how much goes in.

In case you need any more convincing, check out all the places salt can sneak up on you:

• 1 packet dried onion soup = 3,100 mg

• 1 cup chicken noodle soup = 639 mg

• 1 cup tomato sauce = 1,284 mg

• 1 Tbsp soy sauce = 902 mg

• 1 serving jalapeño cheese sauce = 571 mg

• 1 cup turkey gravy = 1,373 mg

• 1 hot dog = 487 mg

• 3 slices bacon = 439 mg

• 1 can pink salmon = 2,515 mg

• 1 cup vegetable juice cocktail = 653 mg

• 1 cup tomato juice = 654 mg

• 1 cup sauerkraut = 939 mg

• 1 Tbsp capers = 255 mg

• 5 canned olives = 192 mg

• 1 frozen chicken pot pie = 2,078 mg

• 1 rice and chicken stir fry = 632 mg

• 1 piece frozen fish = 332 mg

• 1 McDonald's Egg McMuffin = 850 mg

• 1 Subway Cold Cut Combo = 1,550 mg

Shake It and Make It

When you cook at home you control just how much salt goes in to your food. And this doesn’t mean that you just cut all the salt – and flavor – out, it just means you can get more creative with your seasonings. Fresh herbs bulk up the flavor of your dishes and you can polish off the plate with a squeeze of fresh lemon which will brighten most flavors beautifully.

As far as the pre-made products you buy, always go for the low-sodium options, like chicken stock and soy sauce. However keep in mind that even the low-sodium version of soy sauce still contains about 575 mg of sodium for a tablespoon. Instead of packaged noodles, rice, and other pre-made mixes put together your own starchy sides yourself. Then you can slim them down however you want, starting with the salt.

When preparing your foods, remember that you can always add salt but you can’t take it away. Avoid including too much salt in your cooking, instead go for salt-free seasoning and if you absolutely need a little more you can throw on a pat or two from the table shaker, (but I bet you won’t really need it.) Remember that all condiments have salt in them – even ketchup. And also, kosher and sea salt might seem like a more natural option but they both have just as much sodium as regular table salt.

First It’s Salty, Then It’s Sweet

Not only does salt cause problems all on its own, it also has a knack for making you crave sweet. There’s a reason those table-top dessert menus feature gloriously alluring images of their confectionary offerings – it’s exactly what you’re craving after a heaping plate of salty food. Even the seemingly innocent salt on the rim of a (not so innocent) margarita will probably cause you to crave more sugary, sweet concoctions – add that with lowered inhibitions and you’ve got a problem. Start your salt intake later in the day and you’ll hold off your sweet cravings as well.

For some, cutting out salt might seem like a food nightmare. So start slow – start by not adding it on top of anything at the table, then in your cooking and so on. Chances are you won’t even miss it and food might start tasting TOO salty after awhile!


Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN

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