Shaking the Salt Habit

Shaking the Salt Habit
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What three things can we do to lower our sodium intake? Are there any tricks for interpreting nutrition facts labeling on processed foods?

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The two most prominent dietary risks for death and disability in the world are not eating enough fruit and eating too much salt. Too little fruit kills nearly five million people every year, and too much salt kills four million.

There are three things we can do to lower our salt intake. First, don’t add salt at the table. A third of us add salt to our food before even tasting it! Number two: stop adding salt when cooking. At first, the food will taste bland. Two to four weeks later, however, the sensitivity of the salt taste receptors in the mouth will adjust to the taste of salt in the usual concentrations.  Believe it or not, but after two weeks, you may actually prefer the taste of food with less salt. Some of the flavorings you can use instead of salt include pepper, onion, garlic, tomato, sweet peppers, basil, parsley, thyme, celery, lime, chilli, nettle, rosemary, smoke flavor, curry, coriander, and lemon.

Even if you do add salt, though, it’s probably better than eating out, where even at non-fast food restaurants, they tend to pile it on. And finally, avoid processed foods that have salt added.

In most countries, only about half of sodium intake comes from processed foods;  so, there’s more personal responsibility, but in the U.S., even if we completely stopped adding salt in the kitchen and dining room, it would only bring down salt intake a small fraction. This has led public health commentators to note how challenging it is, then, for everyone to reduce their salt intake, since so much of our sodium intake is out of our control. But is it? We don’t have to buy all those processed foods. We can choose not to turn over our family’s health to food corporations that may not have our best interests at heart.

If we do buy processed foods, there are two tricks we can use. First, try to only buy foods with fewer milligrams of sodium on the label than there are grams in the serving size. So, if it’s a 100 gram serving size, it should have less than 100mg of sodium. Or, second, you can shoot for fewer milligrams of sodium than there are calories. For example, here the sodium is 720; calories are 260. 720 is greater than 260; so, this has too much sodium.

That’s a trick I learned from one of my favorite dieticians of all time, Jeff Novick. The reason it works is because most people get about 2,200 calories a day; so, if everything you ate had more calories than sodium, you’d at least get under 2,300 milligrams of sodium – the upper limit for healthy people under age 50. Of course, the healthiest foods have no labels at all. We should also try to buy as much fresh food as possible, as it is almost impossible to come up with a diet consisting of unprocessed natural foodstuffs that exceeds the strict American Heart Association guidelines for sodium reduction.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Mark Poprocki via 123RF.

The two most prominent dietary risks for death and disability in the world are not eating enough fruit and eating too much salt. Too little fruit kills nearly five million people every year, and too much salt kills four million.

There are three things we can do to lower our salt intake. First, don’t add salt at the table. A third of us add salt to our food before even tasting it! Number two: stop adding salt when cooking. At first, the food will taste bland. Two to four weeks later, however, the sensitivity of the salt taste receptors in the mouth will adjust to the taste of salt in the usual concentrations.  Believe it or not, but after two weeks, you may actually prefer the taste of food with less salt. Some of the flavorings you can use instead of salt include pepper, onion, garlic, tomato, sweet peppers, basil, parsley, thyme, celery, lime, chilli, nettle, rosemary, smoke flavor, curry, coriander, and lemon.

Even if you do add salt, though, it’s probably better than eating out, where even at non-fast food restaurants, they tend to pile it on. And finally, avoid processed foods that have salt added.

In most countries, only about half of sodium intake comes from processed foods;  so, there’s more personal responsibility, but in the U.S., even if we completely stopped adding salt in the kitchen and dining room, it would only bring down salt intake a small fraction. This has led public health commentators to note how challenging it is, then, for everyone to reduce their salt intake, since so much of our sodium intake is out of our control. But is it? We don’t have to buy all those processed foods. We can choose not to turn over our family’s health to food corporations that may not have our best interests at heart.

If we do buy processed foods, there are two tricks we can use. First, try to only buy foods with fewer milligrams of sodium on the label than there are grams in the serving size. So, if it’s a 100 gram serving size, it should have less than 100mg of sodium. Or, second, you can shoot for fewer milligrams of sodium than there are calories. For example, here the sodium is 720; calories are 260. 720 is greater than 260; so, this has too much sodium.

That’s a trick I learned from one of my favorite dieticians of all time, Jeff Novick. The reason it works is because most people get about 2,200 calories a day; so, if everything you ate had more calories than sodium, you’d at least get under 2,300 milligrams of sodium – the upper limit for healthy people under age 50. Of course, the healthiest foods have no labels at all. We should also try to buy as much fresh food as possible, as it is almost impossible to come up with a diet consisting of unprocessed natural foodstuffs that exceeds the strict American Heart Association guidelines for sodium reduction.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Mark Poprocki via 123RF.

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