We have all succumbed to salt cravings…the bowl of nuts, the ballpark pretzel, soy sauce on our sushi, a can of soup, the list could go on and on. Our bodies have a natural taste for this mineral which is essential for regulating water balance in our blood and tissues. However, for many of us this craving can quickly become unbalanced and lead to high blood pressure, the leading killer in the world today.
Supply and Demand
The Canadian government is now stepping in to halt the salt in our food supply. Food manufacturers, restaurants and other retailers are being asked to lower the sodium content of products and foods served to meet new guidelines. The Sodium Reduction Strategy Working Group recently announced that the daily value for sodium needs to change from 2300 milligrams a day to 1500 milligrams a day. This reduction will be noticeable on the Nutrition Facts panel of the products you buy.
Make a Choice
What can you do to reduce your risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease? Choose foods with less than 10% of your daily value for sodium or, even better, with no salt added at all. For example, salted versus unsalted butter, nuts, nut butters, chips, crackers, canned fish or canned beans. Choose “reduced sodium” versions of products like soups, stocks, cheeses, meats, vegetable juices, condiments, breads and crackers more often, but be sure to read the nutrition facts panel to determine just how “reduced” the sodium content is.
When cutting salt out of recipes or when buying unsalted products, find flavour in other ways. Citrus zest from lemons, limes and oranges packs a major punch, as does their juice, added just before serving. Herbs, like rosemary, cilantro, parsley, dill and mint, add fresh flavour and even diseasefighting benefits. Spices can do the same. So sprinkle on some cinnamon, toss in the turmeric and opt for oregano. Include a bay leaf whenever you are cooking legumes and for many soups. Top unsalted nut butter with defrosted berries and use garlicky dips for your unsalted chips and crackers.
The number one contributor to salt in our diet is eating out. Although many restaurants are trying to reduce the salt in their dishes, the challenge for consumers is that restaurant foods do not come with an ingredient list or a nutrition facts panel. Although you can request foods be unsalted or sauces served on the side, the only way to know for sure how much salt you are eating is to make the food yourself. Try to limit eating out to only once per week, including the coffee and baked good you pick up en route to work or the sushi you grab on your break.
Fibre is Your Friend
You have heard it before, but it is always worth repeating: fibre has numerous health benefits, one of which is its ability to lower blood pressure. Adequate fibre holds water and minerals like salt in your colon and then allows for excretion instead of absorption. Get your 30 – 35 grams of fibre every day by eating lots of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
Finally, when you do crave something salty, try having a big glass of water first. Often our body mistakes thirst for hunger. Once you are hydrated, you can often make a better decision.