Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Don't Be Salty: Sodium

I have a confession to make to all of you. When I was a child I LOVED salt. Why? I am not really sure. I loved salt so much as I child that I would lick peanut shells and occasionally eat playdough. Does this qualify me as weird, probably but hey it was better than eating paint chips right?!? Just to clear up any questions you may have about this, no I did not have a preference for what color it was and no I did not shape it into any particular food before I ate it.

I like to think that I was very stealth about it and hid in the corner of the basement while doing so. One could venture to say that I had a salt addiction. Even today, I often crave salty foods over sweet ones, which brings me to the topic of today’s blog: Salt.

What is salt?
I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that all of you know what salt is. To get a little dorky on you, the chemical name of salt is sodium chloride. The main component of salt that warrants our attention is sodium, which is what appears on a food label, not salt.

Often salt and sodium are used interchangeably, but now you know that they do not mean the same thing.

Blah, blah, blah Beth, what does it matter?
Why I am so glad that you asked! Sodium is one of the most over consumed nutrients in America. Sodium causes your body to retain water, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but over time can cause some health issues. Over consumption of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart diseases, kidney disease, and stroke. 

What is sodium used for?
Sodium is mostly used for flavor to make not so great foods more palatable. Think of saltine crackers for example. Would they taste good if they didn’t contain sodium? My guess would be no. This is why it is considered an insult to a chef if you add salt to their food. It is also used as a way to preserve foods and for anti-caking (mostly in processed foods).

Sources of sodium
Now sodium is a sneaky guy, who hides in unsuspecting foods, kind of like in this creepy ad…

People tend to think that the majority of the sodium that they eat comes from either yourselves or whoever is preparing your food simply taking the saltshaker and sprinkling it on whatever it is you are eating. Another popular commonly cited source of sodium is canned vegetables. While they do contain quite a bit of sodium, they are not the largest contributor to sodium in our diets either. Think about it, how often do you eat canned vegetables? My guess is not that often.  The largest contributor of sodium in the diet is refined grains (sandwiches, breads, pasta, rice, mixed dishes, pizza, desserts, sweet snacks, crackers and chips). Note: mixed dishes include: Burgers and sandwiches, grain dishes pizza, meat & poultry, and soups. Surprised? If you think about it, it makes sense. While none of these items alone are staggering in sodium content, you probably eat these multiple of these items on a daily basis. 

How much sodium should I eat?
The American Heart Association advises to consume no more than 2,300 mg/day of sodium for healthy individuals and 1,500 mg/day for people are more sensitive to the effects of sodium (If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, if you are African American, or if you are 51 years of age or older).

Now I know what you are probably thinking, “ How much is 2,300mg or how much is 1,500mg?” Luckily your favorite Dietitian has got your back yet again! 2,300mg equates to about 1 teaspoon and 1,500mg equates to ¾ teaspoon. Since most of the sodium in our diet does not come from us sprinkling it on, rather it is already in the foods we eat, a simple guide to use when looking at the food label is…
·     5%DV (120 mg) or less of sodium per serving is low
·     20%DV (480 mg) or more of sodium per serving is high

What about those fancy salts like pink salt and sea salt?
Take a trip down the grocery store aisle and you can find all kinds of fancy salts from Kosher salt, Himalayan pink salt, sea salt, and the ever so fancy fleur de sal. I commonly get asked which one is better. Well, you might just want to hold on Iggy Azalea, 
 I hate to break it to you, but from a health perspective salt is salt no matter what type it is. Sea salt and all of those other salts contain just as much sodium as regular table salt (iodized salt). Granted some may have a few more minerals in them, but they are not worth the price unless you are purchasing them for the culinary aspect (taste) of them.  

Sodium labeling
Ever walk through the canned food aisle and see stuff labeled as low sodium, reduced sodium, or no salt added and wondered what it actually means? Well, leave it to your favorite Dietitian yet again to help you out on this one.

·       Salt/Sodium-Free  Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
·       Very Low Sodium  35 mg of sodium or less per serving
·       Low Sodium  140 mg of sodium or less per serving
·       Reduced Sodium  At least 25% less sodium than in the original product
·       Light in Sodium or Lightly Salted  At least 50% less sodium than the regular product
·       No-Salt-Added or Unsalted  No salt is added during processing, but not necessarily sodium-free. Check the Nutrition Facts Label to be sure!

Breaking it down
Just throwing away your saltshaker isn’t going to help if you are trying to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet; you need to cut back on refined grains and processed foods. Now, I love pizza just as much as the next guy, but I don't eat it on a daily basis. Along those lines, you know what naturally doesn’t contain any salt? Fruits and (non-canned) vegetables! Just saying. Again, I just want to reiterate, no need to splurge on sea salt or Himalayan pink salt unless you are buying them for the flavor. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go make myself a playdough salad. Until next time!

Keep it Fresh,
Keep it Green,


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