By BARBARA?E. RILEY, Ohio Department of Aging DirectorEvery day, you may be adding more salt to your diet than you know. Seemingly healthy staples, such as breakfast cereal, pasta sauce and sandwich bread, often contain more salt than most of us get from the salt shaker. Processed foods account for 75 to 80 percent of the salt we all eat.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found that almost nine out of 10 Americans consume more salt than is good for them, with the average American eating 50 percent more salt than recommended. And those most at risk for chronic disease fared the worst, with one in 20 consuming too much sodium. Healthy adults should consume only about one teaspoon of salt a day, according to the CDC.
Research has shown that excessive salt intake is associated with high blood pressure, which can damage the arteries and lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Health officials advise that 70 percent of adults, including people with high blood pressure, all African-Americans and everyone over 40, should actually limit their salt intake to two-thirds of a teaspoon.
If Americans cut their salt intake by just half a teaspoon per day, it would produce public health benefits on par with reducing high cholesterol, smoking or obesity. The CDC estimates that a population-wide drop in salt consumption, by the equivalent of about one McDonald’s double cheeseburger per person per day, could cut the number of new cases of heart disease by as much as 120,000 and stroke by as much as 66,000.
It is possible to create meals that are low in salt, yet still tasty. The first step is to choose foods naturally low in sodium, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and poultry, hot cereals and grains. Foods that are high in sodium include processed baked goods, most cheeses, lunch meats, seafood, many dry cereals and most canned or dehydrated soups.
Reading food labels can help you protect yourself from unwanted salt intake. In addition to salt, look for ingredients that contain sodium (a form of salt), such as monosodium glutamate, baking soda (also identified as sodium bicarbonate), garlic salt, brine and sodium citrate. Note the salt content of your favorite condiments, such as ketchup, mustard, meat tenderizer, steak sauce and soy sauce.
Low-salt and no-salt diets do not have to be bland. Herbs add flavor to foods without additional sodium or calories. Instead of trying to mimic the taste of salt, experiment with herbs and spices to add flavor to your meals. Try fresh garlic or garlic powder, lemon juice, flavored vinegar, salt-free herb blends, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, fresh ground pepper, tarragon, oregano and many others to enhance your dishes.
For dips that are sour cream or yogurt-based, skip the salt and add a pinch of tarragon or dill instead. When preparing mashed potatoes, use chopped chives or minced fresh garlic instead of salt to add flavor. Don’t add salt to cooking water when preparing vegetables or rice. Toss cooked peas or corn with olive oil or a little butter or margarine and a half teaspoon of dried dill. Use a pinch of cloves in cooking water when preparing broccoli or cauliflower to enhance flavor, then serve drizzled with olive oil or a little butter and chopped fresh parsley or a half teaspoon of dried parsley. Equal amounts of dried basil and oregano will season tomato-based dishes without salt.
The preference for salt is learned, which means you can unlearn your craving. Adjusting the palate to less salt takes time, so be patient. By reducing your craving for salt, you can learn to appreciate new flavors and the natural taste of food, while also reducing your risk of heart disease.