Salt might not be something you think about on a daily basis, but it should be. This tasty, yet potentially harmful substance likes to hide in foods you eat every day—and we’re not just talking about the all-too-common table salt. Sodium hides in your food in various forms and carries with it risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and stroke. Here’s the info you need to know to outsmart the ever-present sodium threat!
Salt’s Target Audience
Odds are, if you eat a “normal” American diet, you would benefit from reducing your salt/sodium intake. However, these groups are at the highest risk of health problems as a result of excess sodium:
- People over 50
- Those with existing high blood pressure or hypertension
- African Americans
Salt’s Favorite Hiding Places
It sounds backwards, but it’s possible for a food to be packed with sodium but not taste salty. Wacky, right?! Although table salt is what most people think of when they hear the word salt, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Close to 80% of the average American’s sodium intake actually comes from processed foods that may or may not taste salty. The American Heart Association has a list they call the “Salty Six” that highlights some of the saltiest foods around. Some of them might surprise you!
- Breads and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats
Some other foods that are high in sodium are:
- “TV” dinners or all-in-one freezer meals
- Foods with the words “brined,” “barbequed,” “smoked,” or “broth” attached to them
How Salt Functions in Your Body
Now, we should take a step back and say that salt isn’t all bad. We need sodium, which constitutes about half of the salt compound (chloride makes up the other half) to keep a healthy balance of water and minerals in our body as well as retain muscle and nerve function.
However, the American Heart Association suggests we consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. (To give you some context, one teaspoon equals 2,300 mg.) The problem is that the average American consumes more than twice that much in a day.
Sodium attracts and retains water. When you have too much sodium in your system, your body swells, your blood volume increases, and your heart has to work harder to keep everything running. Over time, this extra effort puts pressure on your arteries, which can increase the risk of blood-blocking plaque accumulating on the walls of your arteries. That’s the stuff heart disease is made of.
And then there are your eyes! Glaucoma is a common result of high blood pressure, which is called intraocular pressure when it’s specific to the eyes. The pressure in your eyes can push on the optic nerve, disrupting the visual messages going from your eyes to your brain, i.e., your vision! Poor diet and lack of treatment can take a toll on your eyes.
Salt Alternatives and Other Tips to Reduce Sodium Intake
The big question now is, “How do I eat less salt and still enjoy my food?” We’re glad you asked. Here are a few suggestions.
- Look to spices, herbs, and citrus. Here’s a great article containing plenty of options, info on their health benefits, and how to use them in food. Some of our faves? Cilantro, ginger, lemon juice, and garlic.
- Read the nutrition labels and do some math. If you can’t buy fresh ingredients, look for “low sodium” on nutrition labels or do your own calculations based on sodium content, thinking about the recommended daily allowance (no more than 1,500 mg).
- Eat less. Consuming less food altogether increases your odds of consuming less salt. It’s simple math.
- Hide the salt shaker. Lots of times, we salt food out of habit before we’ve even taste it. Keep your salt shaker in the cabinet so you have to make the effort to get up and walk over there if you decide your food absolutely needs a pinch of salt.
- Give your palate some time. Our palates are used to salty food; it’s everywhere. When you cut back on salt and sodium, give your palate a good week (or more!) to adjust. Food will be tasty in a new and more flavorful way if you let it.
The contents in this article are for general information purposes only. Please consult your eye care doctor or physician for actual advice.