Ultimate Sodium Guide: Eat Less Salt!

4 Oct

Ultimate Sodium Guide: Eat Less Salt!

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The tenth Healthy Habits challenge: Eat less salt. Here is a  simple guide to cutting back on America’s favorite seasoning.

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Our bodies need sodium to maintain the right balance of fluids in the body and to help with muscle movement and contraction.

My Take on Salty Science The DASH diet is often cited as a successful low-sodium diet program that can help reduce cardiovascular disease risk, but the DASH diet isn’t exclusively focused on sodium reduction. It’s also rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which all contain other essential nutrients like calcium, potassium, and magnesium… all of which help lower blood pressure. DASH points the way to a whole-diet approach to helping prevent cardiovascular disease. When people eat a balanced diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, heart healthy fats, and low-fat dairy in sensible portions, moderating their sodium, calorie, and saturated fat intake (as we do here at Cooking Light), then sodium intake automatically trends downward, taking blood pressure rates with it. Add regular exercise to the mix, and heart health improves even more.

Reduce Sodium for Good Health

As health experts fight among themselves about how much sodium is safe to eat, the reality is that most of us can get by on far less salt (our biggest source of sodium). In fact, much of the salt in restaurant meals and packaged foods is overkill, just excess salt used to pander our palates in the simplest way. But gradually shaving off a little salt here and a little salt there is critical to good health, not just as a way to lower blood pressure but to keep the heart, kidneys, and bones healthy. It’s also a way to let other flavors shine through in foods and open your palate to a whole new world of flavor.

Check out the List of Top Ten Ways to Reduce Sodium,these 10 easy steps, both large and small, let you keep the lid on sodium without a whole lot of sacrifice.

Here are my three favorites way to help you cut back on sodium:

1. Cook Often

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Outsourcing meals to food companies and restaurants may be convenient, but it definitely won’t keep a lid on salt. Order buffalo chicken fajitas at one popular chain and expect 6700 mg sodium (that includes three tortillas and fixings). Hydrate with a 24-ounce diet cola (90 mg sodium) and splurge on molten chocolate cake for dessert (820 mg sodium) and your net sodium expenditure is 7610 mg, or a heaping tablespoon worth of salt. By cooking at home, chances are you won’t come anywhere close to using that much.
Time-Saving Tip: If cooking every night sounds tiring, make big batches of dried beans, marinara, or full recipes on weekends. Portion into small batches and freeze until needed. Use  Get Cooking Guide (March’s Healthy Habit) to help get started.

2. Make Your Own Salad Dressing

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Drenching salads with bottled dressing is pretty much akin to sprinkling salt on your mixed greens since most dressings pack as much as 300 to 500 mg sodium in a 2-tablespoon serving. And most of us don’t stop at just 2 tablespoons. But the core ingredients in salad dressing, oil and vinegar, are sodium free. Mix the two with a dab of mustard, any kind works but Dijon is the usual choice, and the sodium numbers are so minimal it’s not even worth counting.
Kitchen tip: Whisk together 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard for a low-fat vinaigrette. Optional add-ins: dried herbs, chopped shallots, lemon zest, fresh ground pepper

3. Ratchet Up Fruits & Veggies

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Even if you’re having trouble ditching the salt shaker, do try including lots of fruits and vegetables at meals. Research confirms that eating potassium-rich foods (most types of produce sport generous amounts of this mineral) actually helps blunt the impact of sodium by reducing blood pressure and dilating arteries. If you really want to neutralize some of sodium’s damaging impact, reach for these high potassium all-stars frequently: oranges, bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, dried apricots, melon, and kidney beans.
Cooking tip: Roasting carrots, eggplant, tomatoes or any vegetable with a splash of olive oil and a grind of fresh pepper can result in rich-flavored side dishes that don’t need salt.

Very little of the sodium we consume arrives in our diets via salt shakers. The majority-75 percent-comes from processed foods, where it enhances flavor, stabilizes, or preserves, Smith says. There are the usual high-sodium sources: bacon, ham, sausage and other cured meats; frozen or boxed entrées; frozen and canned vegetables; fast foods; and sauces and salad dressings. But sodium also hides in unexpected places. For example, cottage cheese can contain almost 1,000mg per cup. Read labels to find good choices.

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The easiest way to avoid consuming too much sodium is to choose fresh, whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, says Steve G. Aldana, Ph.D., who is professor of health and human performance at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The reason: Although small amounts of sodium are naturally found in whole foods, they are infinitesimal compared to the amounts found in many processed foods. That doesn’t mean you have to forgo convenience in the kitchen, however. Many canned vegetables are available in sodium-free or reduced-sodium versions.

Independent of sodium intake, fruit and vegetable consumption also has a positive effect on blood pressure. A diet that is rich in whole, unprocessed foods provides a healthy balance of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. “The closer we get to foods in their natural forms, the better,” Aldana says.

D.A.S.H. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension

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Because the DASH diet has an emphasis on real foods, heavy on fruits and vegetables, balanced with the right amount of protein, DASH is the perfect weight loss solution. It is filling and satisfying. Because it is healthy, you can follow it for your whole life. And it is a plan that you can feed your entire family, with larger portion sizes for those who don’t need to watch their weight. It helps you easily lose weight, even though you feel as if you are not on a diet, and it actually makes you healthier!

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