In Part I of this series, we talked about the ideal amount of salt the human body requires to function optimally. We also addressed the question of how much salt is too much and the potential hazards of consuming excess salt, including hypertension and kidney disease.
Looks like the key to better health is reducing our sodium intake. Over the years, with our exposure to processed food and restaurant meals, our palates have become accustomed to food with a high salt content and anything with even a moderate salt content seems bland. However, a few weeks of lowered salt intake will help bring back the preference for naturally flavoured food.
How to reduce your sodium intake
1. Read the labels on food products: Nutritional labels on packaged foods help you determine and control your sodium intake. A food’s sodium content is listed as Percentage Daily Value (%DV) which is based on the total recommended amount of sodium (i.e. less than 2300 mg a day). This means that 5%DV (115 mg per serving) is low while 20%DV (460 mg per serving is high).
2. Understand food labels: While an easy way to keep away from excess sodium is to opt for foods that say ‘unsalted’, ‘sodium free’, or ‘low-sodium’, each of these terms carries a different meaning. For example, ‘no added salt’ means that no salt was added during processing. It might not signal that the food is free of sodium. ‘Sodium free’ means that each serving of the food contains only about 5 mg of sodium per serving.
3. Watch the serving size: Remember that the sodium content listed as %DV on the label is not for the entire contents of the pack but for a single serving. So, the more servings you consume, the higher your sodium intake.
4. Watch out for sodium in food that does not seem ‘salty’: You will be surprised at the amount of sodium hiding behind that seemingly innocuous box of ‘healthy’ cereal, that pack of ‘natural’ vegetable juice or your favourite energy drinks.
Easy ‘salternatives’ to shake off that sodium habit
To replicate the effect of salt on your tastebuds and body without having to invite heart diseases, here are some alternatives that will get you great tasting food with none of the disadvantages of salt:
Spices: Spices have unique pungent tastes that make dishes flavourful, even in the absence of salt. Plus, they come with a host of benefits to our health and well-being. Like salt, cinnamon regulates blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol. If you use pepper, its sharp, hot flavour will work as a perfect salt alternative. Similarly, you can use garlic powder, cumin, turmeric, or onion powder if you are worried about food tasting bland.
Herbs: Redefine any savoury dish by enhancing its flavour, without the addition of salt. Bay leaves when used with meat dishes, can give an explosion of taste. Two of the most common herbs of India, basil and coriander, can also be used in a similar fashion with all kinds of dishes. Mint, thyme and parsley are other herbs that elevate the flavour of foods.
Oils: Use flavour packed oils like sesame oil or coconut oil to coat your food with great taste and good health. You can also flavour your oils using garlic, chilli, or pepper for that extra burst of flavour.
Citrus Fruits: Frankly, no salt substitutes can imitate the actual taste of salt. But, citrus juices can definitely work as satisfactory substitutes. Use lime or orange juice to marinate meats or season salads.
The guilty five
Since more and more of our diets have begun to include processed and packaged food, we ingest sodium without realising that we are taking in more than we need. Here is a list of salty food you need to watch out for:
Bread: One of those food products which we tend to consume for more than one meal throughout the day because of how easy it is to eat. But, did you know that a single slice of white bread contains around 150 mg of sodium!
Canned soups: Next time you opt for a healthy dinner, don’t reach our for that packet or can of soup. Besides containing upto 600 mg of sodium per serving, processed soups are high in preservatives, dehydrated vegetables, and corn starch – all things better avoided.
Instant noodles: Whether it is instant noodles or the ready to eat sachet of pasta you can dish out in 5 minutes, all instant foods are highly processed, packed with preservatives, and have notoriously high levels of sodium in them. Instant noodles can contain as high as 800 mg of sodium per serving! Other ingredients include acid regulators, flavour enhancers, humectants, stabilizers, and emulsifiers that are better off in a chemistry lab than in your stomach. That’s not all. The packets of seasoning accompanying the noodles can contain more than half of your daily requirement of salt.
Ketchup, dips, and sauces: If you thought of ketchup as harmless, think again. A small serving of 15 ml of ketchup contains up to 0.45 mg of salt. Sauces, dips, and salad dressings are equally high in sodium per tablespoon. Opt instead for easy homemade sauces and dressings.
Breakfast cereal: Bet you didn’t see this one coming. A convenient breakfast choice, like all processed food, ready-to-eat cereal is loaded with sodium. One cup of cereal may have a minimum of 300 mg of sodium.
The Natural Beauty and Wellness Hub is our journey into discovering ideas for personal care that are natural, free of harsh chemicals and over-processing, are non-polluting and fair to everyone involved in the process, just as much as it is an inquiry into the idea of beauty and wellness itself. All content on the hub is produced with 100% editorial independence by The Alternative.