Salt is made up of two separate minerals, sodium and chloride. These minerals are vital for life.
Salt in our bodies does a number of different things; it helps to maintain the bodies fluid balance, relaxes muscles, allows nerves to transmit signals, and helps to maintain normal blood pressure.
Salt in Your Body
If you don’t have enough salt in your body (due to excessive diarrhea, vomiting, or other medical conditions which result in the loss of sodium), you can experience symptoms of headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, muscle cramps, disorientation and fainting.
Excessive salt in your body can contribute to or exacerbate other serious health issues that can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
The North American food guide’s identify two sodium values that you should keep in mind:
- 1500mg/day is the amount required for normal health functions
- 2300mg/day is tolerable upper limit, above that your health will be affected
Unfortunately it is very easy to exceed the daily recommend allowances of salt (2300mg) with today’s diet. It can be hard to judge just how much salt is in the foods we eat, so here are a few examples of just how much salt is in some of the foods that we eat.
|How Salty Is It?|
|Table salt – 1 tsp||2300|
|Deli ham – 75g||1508|
|Baking soda – 1 tsp||1284|
|Bouillon cube – 4g||995|
|Soy sauce – 1 Tbsp||914|
|Canned tomato soup – 1 cup (with milk)||800|
|Cottage cheese – 1 cup||788|
|Vegetable juice cocktail – 1 cup||690|
|Ketchup – 2 Tbsp||338|
|Bacon – 8g slice, cooked||137|
You can see how easy the salt can add up, quickly exceeding the 15000mg/day your body needs to maintain normal functions. On average, North Americans consume 3400mg of salt per day1.
Salt & Food Preparation
Besides the use for salt as a seasoning, it has been used for centuries to preserve food. It works by drawing out all the moisture from foods like meats and fish, thereby drying it, and because of salts natural antimicrobial properties, it prevents bacteria from growing and spoiling foods.
While salt is added to foods as a preservative, it also occurs naturally in foods such as milk meat fruit and vegetables. If looking at a single days normal food consumption, the salt you consume comes from:
- 77% from processed foods
- 12% occurs naturally in certain foods
- 5% is added during cooking & baking
- 6% is added at table
For daily values, 5% or less is considered low, while 15% and over and is considered high.
A label with a 15% DV would contain approximately 360mg per serving of salt. You can see how quickly that can add up and exceed the 1500mg ideal salt consumption.
This 5% & 15% rule can be used for any nutrient listed on the food label (fat, sodium, sugar) that you want to keep in check and eat in moderation. Although for fiber, vitamins and minerals you should aim for a DV of 25% and above per serving for optimal nutrition.
To help reduce the amount of time you spend reading nutritional labels, look for foods with the following claims:
- Health Check logo – this is a Canadian program started by the Heart & Stroke Foundation. Packaged foods with this logo must meet certain sodium, fat, protein, fiber, and vitamin requirements
- “No salt added” or “Unsalted” – contains no added salt, but might still have naturally occurring sodium
- “Free of salt” or “Salt-free” – contains less than 5mg of sodium/serving
- “Low in sodium” or “Low salt” – contains less than 140mg of sodium/serving
- “Lightly salted” – less than 50% of sodium than the regular version of that same product
- “Sodium-reduced” or “Lower in sodium” – generally contains 25% less sodium than the regular version of same product
- Additives and preservatives can go by other names like disodium phosphate or monosodium glutamate or dodiume alginate , but all will have the word sodium in the name, so look for that
Smarter Choices & Alternatives
- Eat at home more often, limiting your time at restaurants
- Cook from scratch as much as possible, processed or packaged foods are often high in salt (due to salts preservation qualities)
- Buy fresh (plain) meats and proteins, avoid those that are pre-marinated
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables. If fresh are unavailable, choose frozen vegetables and beans over canned
- Rinse any canned vegetables/beans well to remove excess salt
- Buy unsalted butter or margarine – salted butter can contain 1/2 – 1 tsp of salt per cup
- Limit bottled dressings, marinades, condiments
- Avoid canned soups and broths, instead make your own (or choose low sodium options)
- Remove the salt shaker from the table, instead salt during the cooking and baking process
Instead of Salt Try…
- Spice blends in place of salt – although check the label to be sure no salt in listed in the ingredients
- Citrus juice/zest, garlic or onion powder, fresh minced garlic or ginger
- Fresh and/or dried herbs
- Liquid Aminos – made from soybeans, it has a salty flavor yet contains no sodium
- Try a salt substitute – natural minerals like potassium and magnesium can taste similar to salt (although lack its baking & cooking properties). These substitutes can be expensive, and if you have kidney disease or are taking potassium-sparing diuretics, they should not be used. Better yet make your own! Try our Salt Substitute recipe.
One Simple Change Can Make All the Difference!
|1 can club soda* = 71mg||Sparkling water (0mg)|
|1/2 cup canned mushrooms = 330mg||Fresh mushrooms (2mg)|
|2 Tbsp bottled Italian salad dressing = 340mg||Olive oil and balsamic (1mg)|
*not all club soda brands contain salt, so be sure to check the label
Canadian Living magazine October 2012
Fine Cooking magazine November 2012