Salt, Salt, and more Salt

Single-serving salt packets.

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Salt, or more correctly the sodium in salt, is an essential nutrient in our body that helps regulate fluid levels and keep our blood flowing. Unfortunately, most of us are consuming far more sodium than we should, and the consequences – namely high blood pressure, are swift to follow. The LA Times is running 3 pieces on salt this weekend, and this is a great opportunity to review  mankind’s most popular spice:

Salt and high blood pressure: New concerns raised, provides a good assessment of health issues related to over-consumption of salt

Low-sodium products are on the rise points consumers to an ever growing array of processed foods with reduced sodium. This is good news because 75% of our salt intake is from these packaged foods and restaurant fare.

Finally, busting a myth that expensive gourmet salts are healthier, Gourmet salts: better-tasting but not better for you, examines closely what those fancy pinks and blues have to offer, and what they don’t.

What you need to know:

The terms “salt” and “sodium” are used interchangeably because salt is a compound comprised of  40% sodium and 60% chloride. Sodium is an essential nutrient. Salt, historically, has been used as a food preservative, and to this day it still does a “great” job in canned foods and other packaged meals.

The recommended daily intake is 2300mg of sodium, which is the equivalent of a teaspoon. Most Americans consume far more than that, even twice as much:

…there are more than 4,500 milligrams of sodium in a Dunkin’ Donuts salt bagel … two slices of Pizza Hut’s Thin ‘n Crispy Supreme Pizza have 1,460 milligrams…

We get 75% of our salt from eating out and from packaged foods, and only a small amount from home cooked meals.

The good news for consumers: People’s taste for salt can be adjusted. Reducing intake gradually over the course of several weeks to months can reset our salt sensitivity to a decent level. Unfortunately, reverting to higher levels can happen in just a few meals.

What to do at the supermarket:

Sodium content appears on food nutrition labels, so be sure to check for low values (less than 300mg per serving). Watch out for salt in surprising places such as cookies and breakfast cereals (10% of daily value!). The snack and frozen TV dinner aisles are notoriously salty, although there are new low-sodium products emerging. Look for them. Kosher meat and poultry is usually salted; best to thoroughly rinse at home before cooking. If buying veggies, opt for frozen over canned and save yourself the extra salt. Eating more meals prepared at home is a surefire way to control salt intake.

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