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The Sodium Crisis

Salt (sodium chloride), while a necessary nutrient in our diet, is turning out to be one of Western civilization's worst enemies. Nearly all processed food is loaded with salt and we are consuming it in record amounts. Too much salt can cause high blood pressure, fluid retention (which adds strain to the heart), increase the chance for heart attack or stroke, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease. The statistics are mind-numbing; nearly 97% of all children and adolescents are consuming high quantities of sodium, which in turn puts them at risk for developing cardiovascular problems later in life.

You might ask yourself how and why this is happening. Salt has always been known to be an excellent preservative. Over time, chemists have been able to develop various sodium compounds to add to foods to help extend their shelf lives. Sodium nitrites and nitrates are two of the biggest culprits and are often found in smoked foods such as packaged bacon, ham, and processed lunchmeats. However, salt is in practically everything today, and what I will list here are most likely foods you consume every day. There are some foods that will come as a shock to you, and I want that to be my goal. Re-examine your diet and see where hidden salts may lie.

Common Foods with Hidden (or High) Salt Content

  • Breads and bread products (this is the number one greatest source of hidden salt)
  • Snack foods (chips, crackers, etc.)
  • Cookies and other store-bought treats
  • Frozen microwave meals
  • Frozen prepared dinners/pizzas
  • Pre-processed meats (bacon, ham, lunch meat, sausages, etc.)
  • Packaged raw chicken/other poultry
  • Canned soups (includes broths, stocks, etc.)
  • Condiments (ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, etc.)
  • Cheeses
  • Soda
  • Sports drinks/vitamin waters (not to mention these also tend to have bad refined sugars in them, too)

Now, I'm betting that you or your family consumes at least one of these kinds of products on a daily basis. Did it surprise you to learn that something as simple as BREAD contains a large amount of salt? Next time you to go the grocery store, start comparing the nutrition facts of products you are thinking of purchasing. You might be astounded to learn that your favorite bread or snack food is giving you loads of unnecessary salt.

Now you might be wondering what you can do to help cut down on the salt consumption in your diet. It's not easy to do so, but with a little careful shopping and planning, you can at least reduce the salt intake with several different kinds of products. Here are a few things I always do when I'm shopping:

  • The biggest thing is to READ THE FOOD LABELS CAREFULLY. If I'm trying to go with foods that are lower in sodium, I look for anything that has less than 10% DV in one serving (and preferably less than 5%). You will find that you can't find usually find anything out of the freezer at the grocery store (that isn't frozen produce) fitting those parameters.
  • Buy reduced sodium or no salt added canned products whenever possible. This is a HUGE solution when it comes to your personal cooking. Buying these products allows you to control the salt content in whatever dish you are making. Oftentimes, you will find you will have to add less salt to your recipe when using RS/NSA canned goods. It's good to see that more and more food manufacturers are releasing RS/NSA products in addition to their fully salted versions.
  • If you must buy cans of fully salted vegetables, always DRAIN AND RINSE them thoroughly. Yes, some salt will have been absorbed by the vegetables, but anything that's on the outside will be washed away, thus controlling the salt content.
  • Shop the "outer perimeter" of the grocery store, if at all possible. I'm adding this as a general guideline, because each store will be set up a little differently. Most stores tend to place the most "natural" (by natural, I mean unprocessed foods, such as most meats, produce, etc.) on the outer rim of the store, keeping the bulk of the processed foods on the interior.
  • Abstain from certain foods. I'm adding this as a personal choice. I have stopped eating certain foods because of the ridiculous salt content, but of course, I will still have the occasional salty junk food or junky dinner. Once every now and then is NOT going to hurt you, so don't be paranoid!
  • Use kosher or sea salts in your cooking - they are actually LESS salty than regular table salt!

I hope I've been able to show you that there is a myriad of things out there loaded with salt - when I found out bread was the top culprit, I was really surprised! Don't feel like you have to go nuts trying to cut out all the salt in your diet - that isn't healthy, either. Unless you have been mandated by a doctor to take in as little sodium as possible, you are perfectly all right having salt.

Federal guidelines were recently introduced to help reduce the amount of salt going into processed foods; the goal is to cut down on the salt by 2015. Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen. In the meantime, it's up to you to make healthy decisions.

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