Pass (on) the Salt

Photo: TooFarNorth

Did you dress up as a double-humped camel for this year's Halloween party and everyone kept asking where your costume was? Do you feel like you're retaining more water than the Hoover Dam without the increased hydroelectric benefit to your utility bill? Have you surpassed the Great Salt Lake as our country's largest inland salt water body? Does your blood pressure reading have the folks at NASA saying, "Man, that's high"? Have you been exercising and watching what you eat and STILL can't lose weight? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a sodium problem.

The salt from your shaker might be the least of your worries given the hidden sodium in many processed and restaurant foods (even if it doesn't taste salty - it's in there) - accounting for about 80% of our daily consumption. On average, we should only be taking in about 2300 milligrams (about one teaspoon) of salt a day. But as you might expect, we Americans like to do everything big and are actually consuming about 3400 mg a day. Our sodium intake has risen 55% in the last 35 years and shows no signs of abating. I wish the same could be said about my salary.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the most common danger associated with consuming too much salt. The AMA labeled the need to reduce sodium from our diets an "urgent" public health issue. But since when have we ever listened to advice that was good for us - especially when we insist that our food be as fast as the pace of our lives? But addressing this issue may not be as difficult as we think - and let's face it, we can all get on board with something that's easy. It just takes a bit of planning and awareness.

If perusing the nutritional labels of our food proves too taxing, then try this quick reference guide to see where your favorites fall on the sodium scale. You should really make yourself aware of what's in your food - besides your fork or spoon. You might even be surprised about some of the foods you're using if you're attempting to lose weight. For example, one cupt of 1% milk fat cottage cheese contains 918 mg (I never liked the stuff anyway) and 3 ounces of Alaskan King crab has 715 mg (no wonder it's so crabby). And one cup of canned baked beans for that all-important fiber? A mere 1,008 mg. Remember how we switched from the potato chips in the big Trans Fat Scare of a few years ago to the healtheir alternative of baked pretzels? Right. Well, ten of those hard plain salted alternatives have 1,029 mg. Some canned vegetable juice cocktails, while claiming to provide several servings of veggies in their drink, also contain 653 mg per cup. Tomato juice (in the can with salt added) has 877. Yeah, drinking your veggies seemed just a little too good to be true.

Kicking the can habit could spare you a lot of sodium. Three ounces of white tuna canned in water has 320 mg while raw albacore has 34. A like amount of canned salmon, 471, versus its cooked sockeye cousin at 56 is a no-brainer (even if it IS considered brain food). Non-canned beans, such as lentils cooked without salt, have a low per one cup serving of 4 mg. Now that's some change we can believe in.

Cooking family favorites that come in a box or can could be cooked from scratch with a lot less of the sodium involved. From scratch, you say? Who's got time for that?! I don't mean making everything from scratch, like the pasta or having your own free-range chicken farm, but the things you like in it or on it such as fresh veggies (vs canned) or cheese, oil, chicken, etc. There are also plenty of non-salt seasonings that could flavor up your meals, too.

Eatings foods that are high in potassium can have the reserve impact on your blood pressure than salt does. Here, unfortunately, the equation of how much we should get daily versus how much we do get is the inverse of the sodium math. We should get 4700 mg of potassium daily but typically average about 2300. Some good sources of potassium are apricots (not canned), bananas, spinach, tomatoes, lima beans and prunes. In the case of potassium (and some folks may have sensitivities to it), supplements are not good substitutes for the real McCoy. And as ever, a doctor or nutritionist are always the best sources of information concerning your health and diet.

So next Halloween, when you're recycling/reusing/repurposing or just plain wearing that camel costume again, I bet you'll need a name tag.

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