These days it seems as if we all simply cannot get enough salt in our diets. However, despite our insatiable cravings for this popular condiment, too much sodium in our diets can cause excess fluid to build up in our bodies. When that happens, it typically means that our blood pressure becomes elevated, putting dangerous stress on the heart and kidneys. If you're like many Americans, you probably don't realize how much sodium is part of your daily diet, or how to stop it. The good news is you are not alone. The better news is that by following some simple, yet very important tips, you can reduce your overall sodium intake for better heart and kidney health.
How Much Is Too Much?
First, you must know that a bit of sodium is an important part of the daily diet and for keeping our organ systems in proper working order. For most people, that number is right around 200 milligrams. Sound like a lot? Well, if you consider the 3,000-3,600 milligrams of sodium that the average American consumes, it really isn't. Most healthy adults should aim to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
Your Salt Shaker Isn't Your #1 Sodium Enemy
When patients are told to reduce their sodium intake, many think that simply means halting the use of the salt shaker on the dinner table. For most people, that step alone won't make much of a dent. According to the American Heart Association, about 75 percent of dietary sodium comes from processed food. Salt added at the table accounts for around only 6 percent.
The Worst Offenders
Some foods or beverages that seem healthy might not be. For example, frozen dinners may be marketed as low-fat and low-calorie, but that often means they're loaded with sodium. Be sure to read food labels before you buy. Likewise, even in small amounts, many condiments can pack a whopping sodium punch. Just one tablespoon of soy sauce can contain more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium. That's more than 75 percent of what should be your daily limit. Additionally, watch the labels on your favorite vegetable juices. Manufacturers often add a significant amount of sodium to make them taste good.
Know the Lingo
In order to read nutrition labels correctly and to decode the marketing catch-phrases, it's important to know what the terms mean as they relate to sodium content in packaged foods. Generally, something can only be called "sodium-free" if it contains less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving. "Reduced Sodium" on the other hand, is one of those buzz words you should be wary of. By FDA standards, it means that a food item's sodium content has been reduced by 25 percent of what its full-sodium equivalent contains. So if that "regular" cup of canned soup contains 1,000 milligrams of sodium, its "reduced-sodium" buddy has 750 milligrams. If you're supposed to stay under 1,500 total milligrams of sodium per day, does the reduced-sodium option sound “healthy” to you?
Reducing your overall sodium intake doesn't have to mean that you sacrifice eating flavorful foods. There are plenty of herbs and spices you can use to liven up your dishes without adding more sodium to them. Garlic, onion powder, dry mustard and curry powder are just a few that can add a serious flavor kick to your menu, without added salt. Also, if you begin preparing more of your meals using all fresh (not canned) ingredients (lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables) you'll be able to add a bit of table salt to them without feeling guilt about it. But please, taste your food before you salt it. Perhaps it has been cooked to perfection already and really doesn't need that extra dash.
When you start to become mindful of all the ways too much sodium can play a role in damaging your vital organs, you'll be more likely to treat salt like the "sometimes," not "ALWAYS" food that it should be.