We all know – or at least should know – that salt isn’t good for us. Sure, we need some salt in our diets. And by some salt, I mean 180-500 mg sodium/day. That’s chump change compared to what the average American consumes: close to 3500 mg! The Institute of Medicine (IOM) advises us all to consume 2300 mg of sodium/day or less, and for at-risk groups (those older than 50, African Americans, those with high blood pressure, and those with diabetes and/or kidney disease) the IOM recommends 1500 mg sodium max.
Yeah, yeah. Is it really that big of a deal to eat too much sodium?
YES! A recent study by Darius Mozzafarian (my epidemiologist crush and fellow Armenian) out of Harvard found that excessive salt consumption was linked to 2.3 million cardiovascular deaths worldwide in 2010 alone. For Americans, it was found that one in ten dies from excessive salt intake. The researchers concluded this based on, “247 surveys on sodium intake and 107 clinical trials that measured how salt affects blood pressure, and how blood pressure contributes to cardiovascular disease like heart attacks and stroke.” Read more about this study on abcnews.com.
That’s not the only downside to sodium intake. Several recent studies published in the journal Nature have linked sodium intake to increased risk for and/or exacerbation of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Their studies were so groundbreaking because scientists discovered the actual pathway for why this happens. Basically, sodium chloride (NaCl, or table salt) causes an increased production of T17 cells, a type of immune cell that promotes inflammation and triggers autoimmune diseases such as MS.
That’s kind of scary stuff, but on a non-Debbie Downer note, the above is totally preventable. Eat. Less. Salt. This is not necessarily an easy task. Remember the recommendation I discussed earlier to consume less than 2300 mg of salt? This is what 2300 mg of salt looks like:
Yes, that’s ONE TEASPOON of salt a day. So if you think of all the salt found in our food, especially processed foods, you will hopefully also think twice about using the salt shaker. Though restaurants, from fast food to gourmet, are absolutely guilty of over-salting dishes, guess what the top source of salt is in the American diet??
Wait for it….
Wait for it…
Does anyone else love How I Met Your Mother, especially Barney??
BREAD! Shocking, yes, but if you think of how much bread we eat (toast with breakfast, sandwich at lunch, etc., it makes sense. We eat a lot of bread and bread is naturally high in sodium (because sodium stops the growth of yeast and is thus an essential part of the bread-making process). Other top sources, as outlined by the CDC (in order):
- cold cuts and cured meats
- pasta dishes
- meat dishes
- snack foods
This information makes avoiding salt seem as difficult as avoiding the bubonic plague, but I assure you, it’s not. Here are some recommendations:
Bread (since it’s the top source): sprouted grain bread (I love Trader Joe’s version) is a great swap for regular bread. It is lower in salt than other slices mostly due to the fact that sprouted grain slices are usually smaller than regular bread slices. You can also find no salt added breads, but they’re pretty gross-tasting (not gonna lie). Other options: swap bread for corn tortillas, wraps or even low sodium crackers.
For the salt shaker users: studies have shown that our taste buds adjust to less salt (same goes for sugar) after about 2-3 weeks. Try gradually adding less and less salt to your food so that your taste buds can slowly adjust.
Herbs and spices: a great replacement so that you can still add lots of flavor without all the sodium. Some of my favorites are rosemary (especially on roasted root veggies), basil (on everything!), pepper, chili flakes, cumin and lemon pepper. Even the line of Mrs. Dash seasonings aren’t half bad.
Acidity: lemon juice, vinegar and other acidic liquid can give the sensation of saltiness on the palate with having to use actual salt. Try making your own vinaigrette instead of using store-bought dressings (which are usually high in salt): just mix equal parts olive oil and vinegar.
In general, avoid processed foods whenever possible (for many reasons, including the fact that processed foods are usually high in sodium). Prepare your own grains (Rice-A-Roni and even the healthier-seeming couscous packages are LOADED with salt). Use low sodium versions of products like broth/stock, premade soups, canned beans and veggies, condiments, etc.
Also remember to drink lots of water daily, as water sticks to salt in our bodies and helps “flush” it out. And potassium, found mainly in fruits and veggies, can counteract the effects of sodium. This is yet another reason to eat your fruits and veggies!
Whatever you do…PUT. DOWN. THE. SALT. SHAKER! I promise you’ll feel better when you’re not all hopped up on salt.