It’s something we’ve heard a thousand times before- we need to eat less salt. And while a lot of people readily accept this statement- because in the majority of cases it’s true- many do not understand why this is, or how and where all the excess salt in our diets is coming from.
Salt is mainly comprised of sodium, which useful for the body at low levels. It helps maintain fluid balance and is important for nerve function. When it comes to sodium, however, “too much of a good thing” is, in fact, a very bad thing. Long-term, high intake of sodium is associated with hypertension, heart disease and kidney problems. And while The World Health Organization recommend that adults limit sodium to 1500 mg each day, the average intake for Americans is over 3400 mg. Where is it all coming from? Well, most of it- 75%, in fact- comes from processed foods. Salt is in everything from snack foods to soy milk. It’s not difficult to get more than you need, or more than you realize you’re getting.
You may be aware that it’s important for those with high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney disease to avoid salt, but the truth is, most people could do with a salt reduction in their diets. If you’re eating a lot of fresh fruits, veggies, and other whole, unprocessed foods, you may already be eliminating much of the unnecessary salt in your diet. But it’s easy to forget about the salt we add when cooking, that we sprinkle on meals, and that is already present in our beloved condiments. Fortunately, there are several strategies you can adopt to help you maintain a healthy sodium intake.
Be conscious and aware of the sodium content of packaged and processed foods. Things like potato chips, pretzels and pre-made soups are obvious sources, but many breads, crackers and breakfast cereals are also surprisingly high in sodium. A good tip when shopping for packaged foods is to make sure that the sodium content doesn’t exceed the amount of calories; for example, a serving of bread that contains 180 calories shouldn’t contain more than 180 mg of sodium. You can be more lenient with condiments and sauces that are used in small amounts, but try to find low-sodium options if possible.
Switch to low sodium varieties of vegetable broth in your recipes. One cup of regular store-bought broth can contain 1000mg of sodium, which is more than you want to be getting in a single meal. Low sodium and no-salt-added varieties are widely available, or you can do one better and make your own!
Season with herbs and spices. Dried or fresh herbs and spices should be the preferred method for adding flavor to your foods. Ginger, garlic and chilies form a great flavor base for any number of dishes. Paprika, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, celery seed, cardamom, basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and many more spice-rack staples help to enhance the flavor of food, and diminish the need for salt.
Use citrus juices and vinegar to season salads and vegetables, rather than adding salt. The astringent flavor of vinegar, lemon and lime juice works excellently as a salt replacement, and helps add vibrancy to dishes.
Try seaweed flakes as a table salt replacement, particularly in salads and Asian fare. Kelp granules and dulse flakes, like other seaweed products, have natural umami flavor, and are an excellent source of iodine, calcium, magnesium and iron. Sprinkle on noddle soup, stir-fries and tofu, or make the most of their flavor in a vegan Tuna(free) Salad.
Use Bragg’s Liquid Aminos as an alternative to soy sauce. Though it still contains a high amount of sodium, it has the added benefits of 16 essential and non-essential amino acids, and is gluten and GMO free. Just remember- a little goes a long way!
When it comes to legumes, if you don’t have time to prepare your own at home, be sure to buy varieties that have no salt added. Canned varieties of legumes contain up to 600mg of sodium per serve, and because they are a staple for so many plant-eaters, the amount of salt you’re getting adds up quickly. Eden Organic have an extensive range of canned, no-salt-added legumes which are available at many supermarkets and health food stores.
Purchase organic sea salts instead of regular table salt. Though they have very similar nutritional profiles, sea salt is minimally processed, and contains trace elements and minerals not found in table salt. Table salt is heavily processed, refined, and often contains heavy-metal additives. Keep in mind that sea salts have same amount of sodium as regular salt, so it’s still important to use sparingly.
Nutritional yeast adds a wonderfully savory “cheesy” flavor, which can reduce or replace the need for salt in many recipes. It’s particularly good for pizza, pasta, sauces and tofu scramble. Rich in B-vitamins and amino acids, nutritional yeast is available in bulk from most health food stores.
Finally, remember that the more of your own food you prepare, the more you can control your salt intake. Restaurant and take away meals- even vegan ones- are notoriously high in salt. Limiting the frequency of these meals can contribute to a significant reduction in your sodium intake over the course of a week.
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