He’s a staple at the dinner table every night of the week. He appears in every type of food, be it in a breakfast western omelet to a warm chocolate melting cake. You can sprinkle him, shake him and even toss him over your left shoulder for good luck.
Who is he?
He’s our familiar pal, Salt, and this week happens to be all about him: it’s World Salt Awareness Week.
In going along with the theme of salt awareness, nutritionists and dietitians are shedding light on the fact that salt, if consumed in large quantities, can have adverse effects on our health.
While sodium is a vital nutrient in our diet, the truth of the matter is that sodium deficiency is rare in the majority of the U.S. population. For the most part, Americans are addicted to salt.
Kathy B. Glazer, registered and licensed dietitian, is the owner of Glazer Nutrition Counseling Services and Director of Nutrition Services of the George Washington University Weight Management Program. She attributes most high sodium levels in today’s times to our unhealthy reliance on processed, convenient foods.
Need an example? Simply look at the shelves of the grocery store—they’re crammed with items promising instant meals that can be whipped up in a matter of seconds.
“Canned foods such as soups, stews, sauces, gravy mixes and some vegetables have lots of sodium in their products. Frozen dinners, entrees and vegetables with sauces also can be high in sodium,” Glazer said. “Snack food is especially high in sodium content, such as salted chips, popcorn, pretzels, pork rinds and crackers. Packaged starchy foods also contain a lot of sodium. These include seasoned noodle or rice dishes, stuffing mix [and] macaroni and cheese dinners.”
Glazer also warns of the high sodium content in condiments, such as sauces, seasonings, ketchup, salad dressings and bouillon cubes. “Sauces that have considerable sodium are Worcestershire, barbeque, pizza, chili, steak and soy or horseradish sauce,” she said.
According to the World Action on Salt & Health (WASH), a diet high in sodium can promote obesity and osteoporosis, damage to the kidneys and heart, and increased risk of cancer.
Further, high sodium intake is the primary variable associated with elevated blood pressure, surprisingly even over other factors like weight gain and obesity, lack of exercise, and low consumption of fruit and vegetables.
WASH emphasizes that data linking high consumption of salt to high blood pressure is similarly as strong as the evidence linking cigarette smoking to heart disease and cancer. And, high blood pressure is the main contributing factor toward strokes and one of the leading causes of heart attacks.
To maintain a healthy level of sodium, one should aim for no more than six grams per day. Look for items labeled low in sodium, and shy away from processed foods. Reach for fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains, instead.
“Foods that are low in sodium are mostly fresh and unprocessed frozen foods. In the grocery store, it would be foods mainly in the outer edge of the store, such as the fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. Bags of frozen vegetables and fruits without sauces are good choices as well,” Glazer added.
The American Dietetic Association suggests decreasing salt intake by tasting food before salting it and, if salt’s needed, to use it sparingly. And, if you have a particular palette for salty foods, consider trying low sodium versions of your favorites and use salt substitutes as well.
Sure, it’s a salty, salty world out there. Should your dietary habits begin to mimic that of a salt mine, it’s best to consider the negative impact you’re having on your health.
In other words, start keeping that salty level of yours in check.