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New Strategies for Slashing Salt

By Tracy Olgeaty Gensler, M.S., R.D.

You can do everything right with your diet—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy sources of fat and protein, low fat dairy—and still be doing something very wrong. That something is sodium. The reason it’s so tough to keep sodium levels down is that even otherwise healthy foods are stealth sources: cereals, salad dressings, whole grain breads, canned soups, and even the healthier frozen meals. It was hard enough when the health authorities recommended we limit sodium to 2,300 mg daily. A can of soup—even a healthy soup like lentil—puts you at about 1,600 mg. Have it with some bread, salad and salad dressing, and you’ve hit the 2,300 mg mark in just one meal. And try walking out of a fast food restaurant for under 2,000 mg of sodium—good luck! And it’s not just fast food—most restaurant kitchens use a heavy hand with the salt shaker.

But now, we’re being asked to reduce sodium even further, to 1,500 mg. That’s the level that most likely will be recommended in the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines set to come out this year (based on the preview released in advance), and, this month, the American Heart Association followed suit. The reason: 1,500 mg is the level set for people with high blood pressure or at high risk for it, which now, because of the obesity crisis and the aging population, represents the majority of Americans.

It’s no surprise that sodium can raise blood pressure, which in turn may raise risk for heart disease and stroke. But, according to a recently published review in the British Medical Journal, sodium may raise risks for these conditions even if you don’t have high blood pressure. It may be because in addition to raising blood pressure, sodium can also stiffen arteries and damage the heart. Take control of your sodium intake—and your health—with these suggestions.

Try These Recipe-Rescue Tips

Starting with an already salty dish? No problem! Simply add food or water to the dish, and voila—you’ll double the portions (split with a pal or save as a meal for later) and cut the salt nearly in half. Check out the chart below for some suggestions.

 

Start With: Add: What You Get:
1 cup Chinese takeout beef and broccoli (709 mg sodium) 1 cup plain cooked broccoli florets (20 mg sodium) 2 servings, 1 cup each (365 mg sodium per serving)
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth (930 mg sodium) 1 cup water (7 mg sodium) 2 servings, 1 cup each (469 mg sodium per serving)
½ cup packaged, flavored wild rice (292 mg sodium) ½ cup plain cooked wild rice (2 mg sodium) 2 servings, ½ cup each (147 mg sodium per serving)
1 cup prepared packaged Indian curry dish with kidney beans (401 mg sodium) 1 cup no-salt-added kidney beans (30 mg sodium) 2 servings, 1 cup each (216 mg sodium per serving)
1 cup packaged Mexican rice and beans entrée (560 mg sodium) 1 cup no-salt-added black beans (30 mg sodium) 2 servings, 1 cup each (295 mg sodium per serving)

 

Brush up on Label Lingo

The next time you go shopping, check the label for a product’s sodium content. You can also search for the following terms on the front of the product to help you find foods with less sodium.

“Low Sodium” This food has no more than 140 mg sodium per serving. For meals and main dishes, such as a frozen dinner or entrée, it’s no more than 140 mg per 3½-ounce serving. (Even if the stated serving size on a frozen chicken and pasta dish is more or less than 3½ ounces, the food is low sodium if it has a maximum of 140 mg of sodium in a 3½-ounce serving.)

“Very Low Sodium” This food has no more than 35 mg sodium per serving. “Salt-Free” This food has 5 mg sodium or less per serving.,/p>

“No-Salt-Added” This means exactly what it says—no salt was added to the food. It does not mean the product is salt-free, however, because some foods inherently contain some sodium. For example, if you are buying canned stewed tomatoes, the regular version may have 390 mg sodium per ½-cup serving, while the no-salt-added version has just 31 mg sodium. Still, that offers you a savings of 359 mg of sodium—and the best part is you may not even notice the difference in taste.

“Reduced Sodium” or “Less Sodium” A serving of this food (or 3½ ounces of a meal or main dish; see explanation above) has at least 25 percent less sodium than is normally added to the food.

“Light” – this term can be a little confusing because it can be in reference to the food’s fat, calorie or sodium content. In any case, it means that there’s 25 percent less of one of these three ingredients; check the label to see if it’s sodium.

“Light in Sodium,” “50 Percent Less Sodium” and “Lightly Salted” All of these terms mean that the food has 50 percent less sodium than the regular version.

Use Salt-Free Seasonings

Sure, salt can add a lot of flavor to your dishes, but you can just as easily use herbs, spices and other seasonings to get similar results that won’t harm your health. For instance, this all-purpose seasoning can replace the salt you sprinkle on a variety of foods, from homemade roasted veggie pizza to scrambled eggs to salads. One caveat: When baking, don’t adjust the salt in your recipe because doing so will affect the texture and result of your baked goods.

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground sage
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
1 teaspoon ground red pepper or cayenne pepper (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Shake all ingredients in a clean, dry spice container (preferably one with large holes to dispense). If you’re looking for a milder flavor, leave out the cayenne pepper.

 

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