Monday, November 2, 2009
Why Reducing Sodium is Important
(pictured: smoked salt (2), flaked salt (3), red and black salt, Himalayan Sicilian and Celtic salt)
I should tell you before you start reading this post that I am a recovering salt addict. I love salt of all types. I photographed a few of my favorites (above) and yes I use them all plus an equal number that I didn’t photograph. The thought of cutting back our salt intake was not something I immediately embraced due to my love of anything salty. However, I have come to believe it is important for our health so I did it, begrudgingly I might add.
Those of you that have been reading my blog for a while have probably noticed that I have been more focused on reducing our sodium intake recently. There are a number of reasons for this and I wanted to share them with everyone so you could decide if it is something you want to consider too.
Average Sodium Intake
I have read for years that sodium isn’t good for those with high blood pressure. Well my blood pressure is low (100/60) so I didn’t really think that applied to me. After my husband’s blood pressure began to rise I got much more focused on sodium. I had always made most of our food from scratch and used low sodium seasonings so I was certain our sodium intake was low. Just in case I was wrong I tracked our nutrition for a week to get an average sodium intake. I was shocked to see our intake averaged approximately 3,500mg per day (after removing the high and low day) with a one day high over 5,000mg. How could this be, I don’t use much salt in my cooking and we don’t eat processed foods?
Sodium in Condiments
I began to pay much more attention to the condiments I used. While liquid aminos is lower in sodium than low sodium soy sauce it still contains 160mg of sodium per half teaspoon. Half teaspoon, are they kidding? I start with a couple of tablespoons when I am making Asian sauces. Well at least I did, I don’t use that much now. I have discovered that the condiments I used were sending our sodium above the recommended maximum of 2,200mg per day. Now I can see how the average American is consuming 5,000mg + of sodium per day.
Problems Associated with too much Sodium
Sodium is a problem for more people than just those with high blood pressure. It is also linked to blood clots, heart attacks and stomach cancer. I have also read that a diet high in sodium is linked to an increased risk of dying from all causes independent of other risk factors. Foolish me thought by removing meat and meat products, reducing refined grains and oil that our diet couldn’t get any healthier. Think again. There always seems to be something else I can tweak to give us a nutritional edge.
If you have developed high blood pressure (probably the result of poor diet, lack of exercise, and consuming too much salt), reducing your sodium intake may or may not reduce your blood pressure quickly. We can’t expect to eat poorly for 40 years and then have the damage undone in a matter of months. Things don’t work that way. However if we reduce our sodium and eat a natural food diet most of our bodies will slowly recover from the damage.
For those of you that don’t have high blood pressure (like me) why should you cut back? I am doing it because I would rather avoid getting high blood pressure than trying to treat it after I have it. I don’t like to take pills. You could say I am a little medication phobic (which is odd for a person whose best buddy is a pharmacist). Any time I can avoid a pill I am a happy girl. I am reducing my sodium so that I don’t develop high blood pressure like the vast majority of American’s ultimately will. Not to mention I didn't like the idea of my excesive salt intake increasing my chances of dying from all causes. Salty foods just weren't that important to me even though I love the flavor.
Salt also causes calcium to be leached from the body. If you are a woman you know all too well that osteoporosis is a risk factor. Consuming sodium increases your excretion of calcium and magnesium causing an increased risk of bone fractures. You can read more about a new study from Australia that looked specifically at sodium intake and bone health that is abstracted here. However, I have known about this connection for some time so this study isn't groundbreaking.
Even though my husband and I try to eat a diet based on fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds I was still worried about hemorrhagic strokes. These types of strokes are not caused by coronary artery blockage (atherosclerosis) but by blood vessels weakened by years of stress that result in a vessel rupture. It seems as though there is always something new to be concerned about doesn’t it?
How to Reduce Your Sodium Intake
How did I reduce our sodium? I began by reading all the labels on the condiments that I was using. I also reduced my use of salt, and liquid aminos. I found that by adding a little finishing salt on the top of our food we still got the salty flavor without a lot of added sodium. Additionally I started using dulse granules in our food when I wasn't concerned about the color of the dulse which is a dark brown. This product has a very salty taste but is very low in sodium (34mg per teaspoon compared to 1,880mg for kosher salt). When I first made all the changes our food seemed bland, and I really wasn’t happy. Adding the finished salt to the top of the food helped a lot. Now we find that food made by others tastes unreasonably salty.
Reducing our sodium intake is another measure, among many, that I have taken to improve our health. Something tells me this won’t be the last change either. However, if it keeps my wonderful and very loved husband healthier I think it is well worth the effort.