Four Ways to have Less Salt and More Health

The association between increased salt in our diet and cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure is well-documented in literature (He, 2013).  Yet, with processed and intensely flavorful foods being a highlight in many people’s diet, is it possible to move away from it?

Salt is an addicting flavor enhancer.  As we use more in our diet, the less sensitive our body is to its effects.  We crave ever increasing sprinkles of salt because our taste buds are no longer accustomed to low sodium.  I have experienced this, myself.  Since living independently, I have resorted to the convenience of eating out frequently or cooking less healthy meals in exchange for time.  But the trade-off is that, sometimes when I taste my family’s cooking, I complain about the bland, tasteless protein on the table when in reality it was my own sodium-infused dinners that have caused this contrast.  It’s so challenging to get away from sodium because we find it everywhere, from delicious snacks in the grocery aisles to the seemingly innocent soups and salads at restaurants.  The other day, a glimpse of the nutrition facts from a Tim Hortons’ blueberry muffin told me that 700 mg of sodium was found in a single muffin.  So a food that isn’t branded as savory is, in fact, a salt-soaked sponge.

So what can we do about it?
  1. Gradually reduce salt intake. I often fall prey to eliminating an ingredient from my diet when I learn about its detrimental effects (or become more salient of its health impacts), but it’s not realistic nor sustainable to go from eating out to suddenly cooking every single meal.  Instead, gradually dial down the salt intake.  This could mean adding 1 teaspoon instead of 2 teaspoons in a baking recipe or looking at the nutrition facts to understand what percent of your daily recommended amount of salt a serving size takes.  Tapering down can help because your body is less prone to sensing small changes compared to dramatic ones.
  2. Use spices instead of salt. Just because your salt intake is reduced does not mean you can’t have flavorful food.  Replace the normal teaspoon of salt you use with fresh herbs like basil, parsley, and oregano.  Bulk buy some dried spices so you won’t have to rely on salt to amuse your taste buds.
  3. Eat out less. Since about a year ago, when I embarked on a low-carbohydrate diet involving a significant boost to my fresh food intake, I have very rarely sat down at a restaurant.  The enticing flavors of restaurant meals are accompanied by a huge spike in your salt intake.  Reserve eating out with friends, clients, or special occasions rather than the norm and your body will thank you for it.
  4. Read the nutrition fact label. Looking at the percent of daily value from each serving can help you derive the health value of a food item.  For example 15% of calcium means that 1 serving size of the food item provides 15% of the calcium you need in a day.  A general guideline is to look for foods 15% or higher in fibre, vitamins, and minerals and 5% or lower in carbohydrates and sodium.

    Which soup is healthier?
    Answer: the left soup has 25% daily value for sodium, the right soup has only 13% daily value for sodium