It seems like we are being assaulted by salt. Like guerrilla warfare, everywhere we look there are headlines stating that diets high in sodium can raise our blood pressure and risk for heart attacks and stroke. Salt also has a high number of casualties. It is estimated that 1 out of every 10 deaths in the U.S. is linked to eating too much salt.
How did we get to this point? Salt has played an integral part of world history dating back to 6,000 BC. It was more than a white granular food seasoning found in a salt shaker. Salt has been used as currency; is woven in our language ("sal-ary," "salad," "sausage"); helps preserve food; is alluded to repeatedly in the Bible; and it is necessary for the body to regulate its fluid balance.
However, today salt is inexpensive and universally available. Like swimming in the ocean, we are surrounded by it. It is recommended that healthy Americans should not consume more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (the equivalent of a teaspoon of salt). That number drops to 1,500 milligrams for at-risk people who are 51 and older, African-American, or those who have hypertension, diabetes or kidney disease. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 90 percent of Americans consume too much salt.
Here is Dr. Nina's what you need to know to shake away that salt habit.
•Opt for fresh: Whenever possible, choose the fresh option over canned or processed types. Salt has been used as a preservative since ancient times because most bacteria, fungi and other germs cannot survive in a high-salt environment (it dehydrates them). When buying frozen or canned foods, look for items that do not have salt added.
•Spice it up: While we may not be able to throw away the salt shaker, we may be able to put it on the back shelf by flavoring our food with spices and herbs, low-salt or salt-free seasonings. Consider the following alternatives: garlic powder or fresh roasted garlic, fresh ground black pepper, soy sauce (preferably reduced sodium), onion powder, fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice, or mustard. And don't forget to consider sweetening things up; consider orange juice, dried cranberries or apples to provide a "different" taste and zing. Most foods naturally contain salt. This allows us to stop adding salt to salt.
•Be a smart consumer. Reading nutrition labels can help us make more informed choices. Labels can be tricky. "Low sodium" means it contains less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving and "reduced sodium" means it contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular product. And remember, most foods, even natural ones, contain sodium. Thus, the terms "unsalted" or "no salt added" should be taken literally, but not to mean it does not contain sodium.
•Don't be bamboozled. Sugary foods can mask the taste of salt, despite having a high sodium content. To avoid this, check the label. Compare various brands of the same food item until you find the one that has the lowest sodium content, since this will vary from brand to brand.
•The anti-salt. Potassium is a nutrient that helps offset sodium's tendency to increase blood pressure. Foods that are rich in potassium include bananas, beans, spinach, potatoes and yogurt.
•Made to order. When dining out, we can request that the dish be served without salt. And when eating fast food, we need to be aware that all too often its sodium content is higher than we might ever suspect. Request the menu breakdown and know the sodium facts for the item you are considering.
Because having the desire for salty foods is an acquired taste, it can be changed. So let's launch a counterinsurgency against the assault by salt.! It takes about six to eight weeks to recalibrate our preference for less salt. But once we get over that hump, we will find ourselves having difficulty eating salty foods. This advice is "worth its salt." Whether we sit "above the salt" or "below the salt" we cannot deny the importance of the mineral throughout history or that it is necessary for our bodies, albeit in small amounts.
Dr Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions on general medical topics to her at email@example.com