No, I’m not referring to last year’s Angelina Jolie flick. I’m referring to the salt you probably didn’t see or taste in your Cheerios this morning, but it was there — all 190 milligrams of it. You might not have seen it in the ketchup you put on your fries yesterday at lunch, but it was there — all 440 milligrams of it in those 4 packets. It’s everywhere and our taste buds are so used to it, we don’t even know we are consuming quadruple the amount of the recommended salt intake, until it’s too late.
According to the American Medical Association, if we cut our salt intake in half 150,000 lives could be saved annually. Diets high in salt/sodium lead to high blood pressure, which leads to heart disease — the leading cause of preventable death in America.
Do we need salt?
Don’t get me wrong, we do need approximately ¼ teaspoon or 500 milligrams of salt a day for blood clotting, muscle contraction and relaxation, fluid balance and proper heart function. However, exceeding one teaspoon or between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams of refined salt a day is what is killing us. So what’s the difference between refined salt and unrefined salt? Table salt is highly refined whereas unrefined sea salt is naturally occurring containing calcium and magnesium.
When too much refined salt is consumed, the kidneys, usually responsible for eliminating the excess salt through urination, cannot eliminate all of it. Therefore, the salt accumulates in the blood, increasing the volume of the blood. The heart is then forced to work harder to pump the blood through the body, resulting in high blood pressure which can increase your chance of heart disease or stroke.
Why are we consuming so much?
We often don’t read food labels and if we do read the labels we’re usually looking for fat or calorie content and ignore the sodium content.
We also don’t realize it’s hidden in so many foods like frozen pizzas, canned soups and vegetables, spaghetti sauce and milk. Eating a bowl of Cheerios with milk and a Starbucks Mocha Frappaccino in the morning provides us with 350 milligrams of sodium alone, and we still have the rest of the day’s meals and snacks to get through. Who would’ve thought a cup of Cheerios has more sodium than a serving of Ruffles Potato Chips?
We also eat out a lot! Restaurants are notorious for adding salt to their food to make it taste better and because most are not required to provide the sodium content, we have no idea how much we are consuming when we eat out. We would naturally think something such as McDonalds French fries are loaded with sodium and therefore, we might choose to go without them if we were eating at McDonalds. However, a Big Mac contains 1040 milligrams of sodium versus the 221 milligrams you’d find in a medium French fry. We’d be better off eating just the fries. We also might think a healthier option such as a McDonalds’ grilled chicken club would cut down the sodium, but instead we’d be increasing our sodium consumption by 690 milligrams over the Big Mac.
How do we cut back?
Now that we know the amount we shouldn’t exceed in a day, we can start reading the labels of the foods we buy. We can start making smarter choices about the type of salt we add to our food (sea salt) if we decide to add any at all. We can even switch from adding salt to adding different spices like basil, ginger, rosemary or cayenne pepper that have added health benefits and flavor. We probably aren’t going to stop eating out, but we can start ordering foods that take more time to prepare like vegetables and lean meats and steer clear of processed foods. We can avoid condiments like ketchup, mustard and salad dressing as much as possible and replace canned vegetables we use in our recipes with fresh ones.
We can also use something like www.calorieking.com to search a database of foods including restaurant items to figure out sodium contents.
Open up your eyes and start seeing all that salt in your food — it’ll keep you healthy!
Research & Community Education