Are you Salty?

By Kate Coughlan (9.3.19)

Do you like salt (sodium for short)?  For me, I am not a “salty” person, in fact my physician requested that I add more salt to my diet. I cringed!  I typically do not add salt to my foods or at least intentionally add salt to my food.  The other part of my family needs to limit their salt intake.  This makes life a challenge but has also made me realize more about what salt can do for or against the body. It has also made me look more intensely at those food labels which has been an eye opener.

Let us start with the why.  For me, I intrinsically have a lower blood pressure than the normal “120/80 mmHg” hence an increase in salt in my diet will help reabsorb more water which will intern keep my blood pressure on the higher end which is normal for others.  On the contrary, a high salt diet for those with high blood pressure can increase that blood pressure and result in damage to the blood vessels in the body as well as the heart.    Over the past three years, we have tried to keep our salt content to a minimal for the foods that we share, while the foods that we do not share, I tend to try those foods with a little salt content.  

So how much salt is needed? This depends on the person, however, the dietary guidelines recommends no more than 2300 mg per day. However, those recommendations for individuals that are middle aged or older adults should be limited to 1500 mg per day.   Is that a lot?  There is nothing better on a cold day than some good old hot soup, right?  Well, canned soups, like chicken noodle, contain 600-900 mg of sodium per cup and typically one can is anywhere from 2-4 cups. WOW- that is a lot of salt!  So can my family never have soup on a cold day? No,but in planning out our meals we think about the salt content for the other food that we are having that week. 

This example brings me to the major challenge faced with salt- the number of food items that have salt.  We typically understand things like potato chips, popcorn, soups and processed meats contain salt however there are a lot of other foods that contain salt that was unexpected to me.   For example, some frozen vegetables, cheeses and many sauces are high in sodium content.  Therefore, we have gotten in the habit of checking out those food labels even if we think the salt content is low.  A huge surprise for me were breakfast cereals. Yes, I knew many where high in sugar and added sugars, but most are high in sodium as well. Some of my favorite cereals contain between 5-8% of my daily intake per serving which let us be honest, that ¾ cup of cereal is not cutting it for me!  I typically have 2-3 servings (15-24% of my salt).  So what are some foods to take caution with? The American Heart Association published what they deem as the “Salty Six.” 

Six foods to avoid or limit if needing to cut salt from the diet.

Another tale to the salt issue is many times low sodium or no sodium food items comes with a catch……. Increased sugars, even added sugars, and/or increased fats.  Hence, when I look at food labels, I not only compare the salt but also look at the difference in carbs and fats with the normal item or a similar item that has low or no sodium.  

What about those that need additional salt in the diet to regulate blood pressure. So for me, I wish I can say instead of avoiding the “salty six” eat the “salty six.”   Well, not exactly as those items are not only high in salt but also contain added sugars, carbs and fats that are not the best for me.  So, what foods can I eat that have a bit of salt but are not super unhealthy in other aspects.  One suggestion is to add salt to foods such as vegetables that are healthy. Alternatively, healthy snacks such as salted nuts, olives or cottage cheese may also help.  One caution, salt is not the only way to increase blood pressure. Through my research an increase in water intake and increase exercise especially those that require movement of the legs when seated or lying down will assist in increasing blood pressure.

One may think that when we eat a meal in our household, we cook two different meals. Not the case, we do not cook a sodium free and sodium plus meal. What we do is look for items that have reduced sodium while still maintaining a healthy standard. Often this means fresh foods over processed foods.  Once our meal is served, the additional salt I may need simply comes from the saltshaker hence it’s a win-win for both of us.  I will say, that this new lifestyle does require some prep work and has taken grocery shopping to a new level.  For example, I am more aware of the contents of food labels and if we have a higher than average “salty” meal, we compensate by having food that day and/or the next day with limited salt. Overall, it’s a balancing act!  However, we are creatures of habit!  After doing this for a few years we have a day-by-day menu that fits both our lifestyles and is relatively easy to prepare.  Getting to that point took a little bit of work, but it is well worth it in the end. 

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