Sodium: A Salty Subject

So what is salt anyway and why is too much of it bad for us? 

Salt is a naturally occurring mineral found in rock (rock salt) and water (sea salt) that is used to a great extent in the preservation of food.  Historically, it was such a precious commodity because allowed foods to be brought great distances without spoilage.  However, because it was so highly regarded, it was difficult to come by.  Roman soldiers were occasionally paid their wage in salt (salarium in Latin) and some believe this is where we get the term Salary. 

But enough on history…so what is all the hubbub about salt?  Since it’s natural it should be good for us in unlimited quantities, right?  Not exactly my friend.  According to the American Heart Association, most of us should strive for a Sodium intake of no more than 2300 mg per day which is the equivalent of about a teaspoon of salt.  The bad news is that most of us get twice that amount (and often greater) on a regular basis. 

So where does all this sodium come from?  If you said “the salt shaker” you’d be wrong. 

The truth is that the salt we add to our foods is the least of our worries.  Most of the salt consumed (almost 80%) comes in the form of processed and/or restaurant foods.  Now we get back to the function of salt as discussed earlier.  Salt is a preservative and as such is needed in the processing of foods to maintain their shelf life.  Examples of higher sodium items are canned foods like soups, frozen entrees, boxed side dishes, cheeses, deli meats, and soy sauce just to name of few.

Also, remember that kosher salt and sea salt still contain sodium.  Some believe that these are better sources as they have a lower amount of sodium than standard table salt.  However, this difference is very slight and has to do more with the density of the grain.  Table salt has a smaller grain compared to sea or kosher salt which is larger with more space between granules.  Therefore a teaspoon of table salt will contain more sodium because it has less open space between granules.

 The good news is that decreasing the amount of sodium in your diet can result in a lower blood pressure. Here are a few tips: 

  • Read your nutritional labels.  You may be surprised at the amount of sodium in the foods you eat on a regular basis.
  • If you are on blood pressure medicines, know that a reduction of sodium intake will help your medications work more effectively.
  • Balance your meals with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies.  They provide wonderful nutrients like potassium while at the same time helps to fill you up with fewer calories and less salt.

If you dine out regularly, beware!  Most restaurant foods have very high levels of sodium in their foods to enhance flavor.  Check the menu’s nutritional information or ask your waiter.

Whenever possible, consume foods in their more natural state.  Unfortunately, our busy lives don’t always afford us the opportunity to cook all foods from scratch, but if we work towards reducing the so-called convenience items, we may find ourselves better able to keep our sodium intake in check.

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