Friday, March 27, 2009

Too Much Salt

  • We eat too much salt:
  • Americans already eat way more than the recommended amount of salt, and now the CDC finds that even lower recommendations apply to 70% of us.

    New data show that the average U.S. adult consumes one-and-a-half teaspoons of salt every day. That's a half teaspoon more than the basic daily recommendation of one teaspoon (about 2,300 milligrams of sodium).

    But the recommendation is much lower for people with high blood pressure, people over 40, and all African-American adults. These groups should be eating no more than two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt (about 1,500 milligrams of sodium) per day.

    More than two out of three Americans -- some 145.5 million of us -- are in those categories, the CDC now calculates.

The thing is that most of the salt in our diets doesn't come from the salt shaker or from added salt to the foods we cook at home. It comes from processed foods. The American Heart Association says up to 75% of our sodium intake comes from processed foods such as tomato sauce, soup, condiments, canned foods, and prepared mixes.

Salt isn't the only high-sodium chemical in our diet -- there's also baking soda, baking powder, and MSG. And on food labels, you'll see it in a myriad of other ingredients such as disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, sodium benzoate, and so on.

It's OK to add a pinch of salt when you are cooking to brighten flavor but you can reduce or eliminate a lot of the need for salt as a flavor enhancer by using other things to enhance or otherwise brighten up a dish. A bit of grated lemon or orange peel(zest) and likewise citrus juice from lemons to grapefruit. Vinegar and wine are great as well to add a bit depth to a dish. I use balsamic vinegar(an inexpensive one) quite often instead of salt and it only takes a teaspoon or so. You won't actually taste the vinegar but it will definitely improve flavor in such things as soups and stews. I keep white and red vinegar, rice wine vinegar, balsamic and apple cider vinergar on hand all the time. Don't forget a bit of Tabasco or other good hot sauces either(Cholula with the little wooden cap from Mexico is a good one). A tiny bit added to scrambled eggs or cooked veges in combination with a dash of wine vinegar makes a world of difference and really does eliminate the need for much or any salt. If you make a conscious effort to reduce salt you'll find you become far more sensitive to the amount in your food and therefore need even less to get the job done.

The biggest way, again, to reduce the amount of salt in your diet is to get rid of processed foods wherever possible. Try reading the labels for sodium sometimes and you will be shocked at the salt in most of the boxed and packaged foods.

Remember, for most of us, no more than two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt (about 1,500 milligrams of sodium) per day is the upper limit. A few Fritos or a handful of pretzels and you are toast.

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