Is your salt intake in need of a little shake up? With the release of the new USDA Dietary Guidelines there have been lots of headlines about salt consumption recently. I don’t think a lot of people realize what damage excess salt can really do to a person and quite how much salt the average American consumes.
To start at the beginning, the USDA just outlined new guidelines for salt intake. African Americans, those over 50 years old and those with high blood pressure should limit their salt and sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day (that’s low). This group of individuals makes up over 50% of the US population, so the USDA is making a general statement to say that we should all be aiming for this low number. However, they’ve also added another category for those of us without the risk factors mentioned above. Individuals who are not African American, those under 50 and without high blood pressure should aim for 2,300 milligrams a day. That is still pretty low considering that when I was in my internship working in clinical nutrition we handed out 2,400 mg low sodium diets – now 2,400 mg would be considered high!
So, why the change? Well, excess sodium can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, leading to heart attacks and stroke. It can also cause kidney disease and has been linked to stomach cancer. Plus, Joe-Average American is eating about 3,400 mg of sodium daily, so we’ve got a bit of work to do.
The thing about cutting down on sodium is that it is a sneaky little mineral and is hidden in many different foods. Things like cereal, desserts and pastries, muffins, seasonings like taco and fajita mix, baked beans, tomato sauce, bagels, dressing, tomato juice and ketchup among others. However, it is easy to find on the Nutrition Facts label. When trying to decrease your salt intake look for foods with low % Daily Value for Sodium – 5% is considered low. If you are in the category of people who need 1,500 mg or less choose packaged foods with less than 5% DV of sodium. If you are in the 2,300 mg group then aim for less than 10% DV of sodium. Or, even better, skip the packaged food all together, sodium is used as a preservative in most packaged and canned foods. Fresh foods rarely have added sodium, one exception is chicken, which companies sometimes inject with a broth solution. If you stick to mostly fresh, unpackaged foods that are sodium free then you can feel comfortable adding salt during cooking and at the table.
Salt is a great way to enhance the flavor of foods, so I can’t recommend giving it up completely (I know I never could). So choose your foods wisely- skip the prepackaged stuff, opt for fresh and add salt yourself at the table. Also, invest in some gourmet salts. I love salts like McCormick French Grey Sea Salt for my salad, it has large chucks of salt so you only need a tiny bit. I also like Murray River Pink Flake Salt. You can pick up flavored salts like truffle salt at places like World Market or TJ Maxx for cheap. When you use these salts you’ll realize that you don’t need as much and they impart such great flavor to your fresh foods that you’ll never go back to prepackaged again.