Sodium: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
Sodium is a component of salt and our bodies do require a small amount of sodium in order to control blood pressure and muscle contractions. While salt occurs naturally in some foods and in our water, the majority of processed and packaged foods include salt as an additive.
An important factor to highlight when it comes to sodium is that high salt intake is directly related to high blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure can lead to other health conditions such as heart disease, kidney problems, and stroke. Also, consuming too much sodium can cause our bodies to retain water, leading to a very “puffy” feeling (or look) and slight weight gain.
Sodium hides in almost all processed foods so it would be best to select the fresh version of the food you are purchasing in order to reduce the sodium content. However, understanding food labels in relation to sodium is important knowledge to have in making the best selection.
It’s important to focus your attention on decreasing the amount of sodium you are consuming. As a guide, try not to exceed more than 500mg of sodium per meal. When you eat foods high in sodium, your taste buds become used to these levels. Fortunately, you can retrain your taste buds to enjoy food with lower amounts of sodium. Reduce salt slowly. You will not be able to eliminate all sources of sodium at once. By gradually reducing your sodium intake, you generally will not notice much of a difference.
Tips to Reduce Sodium
- Take the salt shaker off the table, and work to eliminate adding salt when cooking and baking.
- When choosing canned foods, read labels to choose items with the lowest sodium content per serving.
- Be sure to rinse off any canned products to remove excess sodium prior to use or consumption.
- Prepare marinades, sauces and seasonings from scratch instead of purchasing them pre-made.
- To flavour food, use sodium free options such as herb & spice combination seasonings.
- Kosher salt, sea salt and table salt all contain similar levels of sodium.
Dining Out Tips
- Ask for sauce on the side and choose sauces with low sodium options (e.g. low sodium soy sauce).
- Ask for low sodium soups and broths when possible.
- Be mindful that breads and rolls can be prepared with salty spreads (e.g. garlic bread). In order to reduce your sodium intake it would be best to avoid these choices.
- Request that no processed or American cheese be added to your meal (mozzarella or Swiss are lower sodium options).
- Ask for no added salt or butter with vegetables or starches (potatoes, pasta, rice, bread).
- Avoid foods that are pickled or smoked as they typically have higher sodium contents.
- Select broiled, grilled, baked, or roasted meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish options.
- Steer clear of cured meats and deli meats.
- Ask your server not to have MSG added to your meal.
With these tips, a little practice, and a lot of label-reading, you can bring down your daily salt intake significantly and enjoy less bloating and avoid more serious health complications!