Some of you have a sweet tooth; others have a savory tooth. It turns out that hereditary factors may be responsible for what makes you choose a cookie or chocolate bar over a bag of chips. Women’s Health Magazine explains that people’s taste buds differ in their sensitivity to sweet and salty flavors. So while you might need more sweet flavors to satisfy cravings, someone else might need foods with more salt to do that.
Most of you understand the impact on your health from excessive consumption of sugar. If not, consider reading this All We Eat blog post from last November. But what about excessive consumption of salt—or more specifically, the sodium in table salt? How does that affect your health?
In this post, you’ll learn why you need to pay attention to how much salt you consume daily and how to gradually reset your salt intake threshold to a reasonable level.
IS TOO MUCH TABLE SALT REALLY A BIG DEAL?
Blood Pressure UK offers a pretty succinct description of how excessive salt intake impacts your health. Consuming too much salt reduces kidney function and allows more toxic waste products to build up in your body, leading to kidney disease. It also thickens artery walls, reducing oxygen flow to critical organs like the heart and brain, ultimately leading to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. However, as the Harvard Medical School notes, factors like your genes, age, and existing medical conditions may determine how big an impact excessive salt intake has on your health.
WHAT’S A REASONABLE AMOUNT OF SALT TO CONSUME EACH DAY?
The same article from the Harvard Medical School explains that your body actually needs the sodium in salt to “transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscle fibers (including those in the heart and blood vessels), and maintain a proper fluid balance.” It does go on to say that your body doesn’t need a lot of sodium to do that, though.
So how much sodium is reasonable to consume in a single day?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, published on Health.gov, recommends you consume a maximum of 2300 mg of sodium a day. That’s the equivalent of a teaspoon of table salt. The guidelines suggest an even lower 1500 mg per day (about three-quarters of a teaspoon) if you are African-Americans, over 51 years of age, or have high blood pressure or other health conditions. Unfortunately, as a Mayo Clinic article reveals, the average American consumes around 3400 mg of sodium daily. It might be time to inventory your diet and see just how you may be getting more sodium in it than you should.
FIND THE HIDDEN SALT IN YOUR DIET
Part of the salt intake issue in the U.S., and probably in many developed nations, stems from failing to pay attention to the level of sodium contained in foods even before you reach for the salt shaker. The Mayo Clinic article lists the main sources of sodium as processed and prepared foods like pizza and cold cuts, natural sources like milk and vegetables, recipes that call for salt, and condiments like soy sauce and ketchup.
Most of these sources for sodium, except vegetables and other non-packaged natural foods, have nutrition facts labels. Consider reviewing those labels on the foods you eat for a week to get a sense of how much sodium you consume on average. Be sure to also measure any salt that you add to recipes and prepared foods. Once you establish a baseline, you’re ready to reduce your intake.
A SALT THRESHOLD RESET
As this NPR article explains, perhaps the best way to reduce your sodium intake is to just go cold-turkey and eliminate as much sources from your diet as you can. Do that for three weeks, and then slowly add it back in until you’re well within the dietary guidelines based on your race, age, and health. Completely eliminating all sodium may be impossible given that you can’t really avoid it in prepared foods, naturally occurring sodium, or when eating out. You can make a big dent in your consumption though. The good news is that if you take this approach, you’ll find it pretty easy to say no to salty foods at the end of that three weeks. You will have essentially reset your palate’s salt sensitivity threshold.
Another simple idea? Just put the salt shaker away. Don’t add anymore salt to foods served at your table. You’ll gradually shift your salt sensitivity threshold downward.
By the way, a food diary app can make it much easier to establish your sodium intake baseline and track your progress. Read this All We Eat post on using MyFitnessPal. It may be a real eye-opener about your eating habits.
START YOUR SODIUM REDUCTION DIET WITH ALL WE EAT RECIPES
Most of the recipes on All We Eat call for little salt. For example, the Borscht Recipe, which serves five, calls for just a single teaspoon of salt. The recipe lets you decide to add more salt if you like. You don’t have to add any more—just let the great flavors of onion, bay leaf, and other ingredients satisfy you instead.
Do you have to limit your sodium intake for health reasons, or do you just choose to do so proactively? What secrets do you have for making sure you stick to a reasonable amount of sodium in your diet? Please share your thoughts in the comments.