How much salt do Americans consume per day? An average of 3,400 mg (1 tsp = 2,325 mg).
1,500 mg should be the sodium limit according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, especially for people who are 51 or older, and people of any age who are African Americans, or who have diabetes, high blood pressure or chronic kidney disease.
High blood pressure is epidemic in America, and is a major cause of strokes. High blood pressure can be reduced by lowering excessive salt intake. Some problems such as congestive heart failure require more restriction of sodium. Too much salt also contributes to headaches in some people, and to water retention.
This leads to the logical question of why salt is added to packaged and restaurant foods in the first place if a large number of people shouldn’t be consuming much in the first place. After all, salt can easily be added after cooking to individual servings. There is a kind of mass conviction that only salted food tastes good. But salt is an acquired taste. And salt is addictive, just as sugar and fat are, as Michael Moss discusses in his new book, Salt Sugar Fat .
Sodium Content: Don’t Believe the Advertising, Read the Label
The idea for this post came to mind as I was standing in the canned goods section at a local large chain grocery store where I had gone to pick up a can of black beans. I usually buy canned beans from a different store, or buy them bulk and cook them myself (much tastier!), so I wasn’t familiar with their brands.
There were two choices of black beans I honed in on. One was a major brand with a prominent banner across the front reading “reduced sodium”. The other was the store organic plain brand.
You would think that the low sodium item would be as advertised and have less sodium. But the low sodium can had almost twice the sodium per 1/2 cup serving size. There was 240 mg sodium for the “low sodium” can compared to 120 mg of sodium for the plain organic store brand. Neither brand offered “no added salt”.
How much sodium do black beans actually have naturally? Actually, only 1 mg per 1/2 cup.
This was clearly a telling example of the importance of reading food labels – and of the folly of blindly trusting the advertising on the front of the product.
Appallingly, the normal sodium version of the big name brand had 480 mg of sodium in 1/2 cup. That is almost 1/3 of the entire daily recommendation for sodium and it’s only 1/2 cup of beans, a food that naturally has zero sodium! That’s insanity!
Sadly, phenomenally high sodium content is too often the norm for canned goods, and packaged foods in general. You might not be aware that even bread and cheese are sources of high sodium.
How To Take Charge of Sodium Intake
• Cook your own foods when possible and put no more than a small pinch of salt in a dish. Be daring, even, and add none. If you do that for long enough, you will start to realize how salty many prepared and packaged foods really are. Remember, salt is addictive. But you can reverse that addiction.
• You do not have to settle for bland. Use other spices, onion, garlic or herbs, instead of salt.
• Read the labels of products you use to cook with. You may be using much more salt than you thought. Remember to look at the serving size. Often times labels use deceivingly small serving sizes to minimize the appearance of how much is in a serving size that people really eat.
• Put some salt on the table for those who insist on adding salt. Remember, if you are cooking for more than one, an individual person can choose to add salt, but everyone else eating that dish can’t remove the salt that is already there.
• Foods have some sodium naturally. You need some sodium in your diet and you will get that from whole natural foods without adding any additional salt.
• On the bright side, eliminating salt will awaken your taste buds to many more flavors. Too much salt actually deadens your taste buds.
• Buy “no salt added” prepared canned foods. Drain and rinse canned foods where that is possible to reduce sodium. Ask for no salt added when eating out.
So humor me please – even blame me. But please, reduce your salt intake and cook with very little salt. Over time, it could make a big difference for you or someone you love.