I have always loved savory foods in fact I’ve never really had much of a sweet tooth. To a certain extent that’s a good thing, but too much salt or too little can wreak havoc on your health. But how do you know what’s right for you or if you’re getting too much in your diet? A few years back, low sodium everything was all the rage, but now there’s mention that you can actually consume more salt than initially thought…it’s very confusing.
To get started let’s look at what sodium actually is. Sodium, found in salt, is an essential micronutrient that every human being must consume in order to function. It is a mineral and electrolyte that helps the body maintain its fluid balance and can also aid in digestion. Sodium can be found naturally in some foods, but for the most part we tend to get from foods where it’s added in order to enhance the flavors of the dish. Foods with the highest amount of added salt tend to be cured meats and cheeses, salted fish and soya sauces, not to mention fast food and frozen meals. If you’ve ever watched a cooking show then you already know that chefs tend to add a lot of salt to their meals; it always makes me laugh when they say “Salt to taste” or “Pinch of salt” only to watch them add a handful to whatever they are cooking. Much like sugar, your body will process salt the same way regardless if it’s pink Himalayan, fleur de sel or table salt, so don’t fool yourself into thinking the expensive stuff is better for you, the only real difference is the taste.
The range for the daily sodium intake is 1500-2300 mg, but most of us tend to get more than this, around 3200 mg per day on average and there could be some serious health risks with consuming too much salt in the diet. The first and obvious side effect is water retention and therefore bloating (see my previous post “Bloated Much?” for more info), another effect is dehydration which overtime can lead to kidney and urinary problems, and finally hypertension which can lead to blood pressure disorders and a whole slew of other health issues as well. If sodium is restricted too much then it can also lead to health issues including an increase in hormones in the blood, changes in blood pressure and possible cardiovascular related problems as well. Clearly this is one mineral that needs to be consistently well in balance over your lifetime.
Take a look at what your diet looks like now; how you prepare your meals, how often you eat out and how much salt you typically add to what you cook. If you eat out often then chances are you’re probably nearing or going over the upper limit of the daily recommended amount. The same goes if you eat a lot of prepackaged meals and snacks, check out the nutritional facts on the back of the package; it may surprise to see exactly how much you are actually consuming per serving. If you notice that you eat a lot of these meals regularly and you really can’t change it, say because you travel for work or have lunch meetings regularly, then be sure to choose meal options that are as balanced as possible and drink lots of water throughout the day to flush out excess salt. As always, be sure to choose meals with lots of vegetables and stay away from fast foods as much as you can. That being said don’t get all crazy the next time you go to a restaurant and start asking the waiter how much salt is in everything, just make the best decision you can and be mindful of what you’re putting in to your body. When cooking at home, start paying attention to how much salt you add to everything and consider reducing gradually overtime so that your consumption is within a healthy range. You always have the option of choosing low sodium versions of your favorite cooking ingredients like broths, canned beans or soya sauces, so if you haven’t already made the switch there’s no time like the present. I usually don’t add much salt to anything that I cook except when I salt the water for cooking pasta or add a splash of soya sauce when making an Asian stir fry; I want to be able to taste the natural flavors of the ingredients in my meals instead of just tasting saltiness.
Keep in mind how important your health is and that even if something tastes good now, if it causes you problems in the long run it’s probably not worth it. Speak with your healthcare provider about any concerns you may have and for tips on how to keep your sodium levels in check. There are a lot of little things to think about when it comes to nutrition, but in general as long as you keep everything in moderation and focus on a balanced diet, you’ll be good to go.
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