Shake the Salt: 10 Easy Ways to Cut the Hidden Salt in Your Diet

| Food

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According to the Food and Drug Administration, people are consuming way too much salt, almost twice the amount that’s recommended in a day. Because of this disturbing discovery, more and more people are looking for ways to shake the salt habit. According to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a CBS News Medical Correspondent featured on “The Early Show,” salt is crucial to the body’s mechanism, particularly its fluid and electrolyte balance. Contrary to popular belief, salt is actually essential for the body, except when in excess.

Blood, tears and sweat all taste salty because a substantial part of them is salt. To explain why too much salt is dangerous, it is necessary to remember that water in the body is instinctively attracted to each salt molecule. Therefore, excessive salt in the body means excessive water retention. Too much water volume puts the heart and kidneys in overdrive and can lead to kidney disease, high blood pressure, and other critical heart ailments.

Adults consume almost double the recommended sodium allowance. According to Dr. Ashton, 1,500 milligrams of salt a day is all the average adult needs, but studies have found that Americans are consuming about 3,400 milligrams, and the source of the excess salt from foods you would never expect.

For instance, you think you’re healthy eating a green salad for lunch, but the dressing you use could contain up to 400 milligrams of sodium. Cottage cheese, another healthy food, has approximately 900 milligrams in a cup. The tomato sauce you put on your pasta is loaded with sodium, and while you think you’ve bought a nice plump chicken from the grocery, it has actually been injected with salt solution to make it appear so.

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With these eye-opening pitfalls in the way the modern eater unknowingly consumes sodium, how do we get rid of the excess salts in our diet? Try these tips:

Read (and understand) food labels. Flip the box over and learn to decode your label and find the hidden salt.  Go to the sodium section and take a look at how many milligrams of salt there are. After looking at several brands, go for the one that has less sodium. For instance, commercial pancake syrups usually have higher amounts of sodium compared to pure maple syrup.

Know which claims are credible. Food manufacturers already know folks will choose the brand with less sodium, so they may become trigger–happy, putting claims like “low in sodium” on their packaging. Check to see if the claim is consistent with how much sodium the food actually contains. If the box says “healthy,” read it as having no more than 480 mg of sodium in a serving. If it says “reduced,” expect that its content should be at least 25% lesser than the original variant. “Very low in sodium” implies that sodium content must not exceed 35 milligrams per serving.

Cook meals from scratch. While meal-makers and ready-to-cook meals are becoming a novelty, these foods aren’t always the best choice if you're watching your sodium intake. The sauces, powders and seasonings contain way more salt than you realize. Feed your family with wholesome foods prepared lovingly from scratch. This means using fresh vegetables and fruits instead of canned, bottled or frozen fruits and veggies. This also means making your own pasta sauce from real tomatoes and herbs instead of pouring a packet of ready-to-serve sauce on your pasta.

Forget fast food and be snack-conscious. It’s tempting to drive through the nearest fast food drive-thru for a quick bite, but you are risking taking in heaps and heaps of salt that your body doesn’t need. Fast food means whatever you’re ordering is already processed and half-done so it can be quickly prepared. Salt is used to preserve and flavor food so it can taste good when reheated or prepared. This is true with a bag of chips or salted nuts too. The best snacks contain very little or no sodium, like fresh veggies and fruits.

Get creative when flavoring food. Salt, while it’s a staple, doesn’t always have to be in the picture. Flavor your food with lemon, herbs, spices, garlic, ginger, onion and the like instead of shaking that salt shaker. When you add these natural flavor enhancers, you will only need half or a fourth of the salt you would normally put into a recipe. Avoid mayonnaise and pickles if you can.

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Stay away from salt heavyweights. In your fridge you have lots of foods you think you can't live without—bottled olives, chicken bouillon, frozen dinners, cold cuts, pickles and sauces. Time to let them go and choose low-sodium alternatives. Say no to processed dinners as they are high in sodium with their cured meats. The amount of salt in your regular foods could surprise you. For example, bouillon has more than 1,000 milligrams per pack. Soy sauce also has 1,000 milligrams per tablespoon.

If it’s canned, can it. Canned goods are a no-no, and they should be avoided if at all possible. The salt and water in canned foods help food keep for longer. In addition, cans are often lined with the deadly chemical BPA. If you can find fresh alternatives to canned veggies, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go for those instead.

Choose low-sodium dairy. Dairy contains sodium– yogurt, milk, cheese, butter and margarine all have salt. It isn’t enough that you choose low-fat dairy; consider comparing sodium content between types and brands too. There are low-sodium variants to choose from, and of course there are salted and unsalted types.

Go fresh. Before making your way to the frozen section, visit the fresh produce section where there’s a good selection of fresh fish, shellfish, meats and poultry. These are absolutely unflavored and are lower in salt compared to frozen or processed alternatives.

Stay hydrated with water. Despite all these efforts, you still may be consuming more salt than your body needs. Flush the excess and other toxins out by drinking plenty of water. While 8 to 10 glasses of water is ideal, feel free to drink more, especially when you’ve consumed highly salted foods, drinks or medication. It’s refreshing, hydrating and you can never get too much.

Skinny Mom tip: Sea salt contains almost 80 mineral elements the body needs. Some of these elements are essential in trace amounts. Unrefined sea salt is the best choice!