Salt has been getting a lot of publicity lately as the federal guidelines have lowered their recommended daily allowance from 2,300 milligrams to 1,500 milligrams or less. This is quite a dramatic drop and it was done for good reason. Americans are consuming far too many foods that contain excessive added sodium. Although salt is a vital mineral for the human body, there is definitely such a thing as too much of a good thing.
The foods that contain the most sodium are many of the processed and packaged foods found in the middle aisles of your grocery store. Items such as soups, sauces, frozen dinners, salted nuts, and potato chips are common culprits. Always check the nutrition facts label on the package for sodium content. You may be surprised to learn that many things contain an entire day's worth of sodium in one serving. Fast food is also notorious for its astronomically high amount of salt, so be aware of this if you choose to eat food from these establishments. If you consume the majority of your diet from fresh unprocessed foods, vegetables and sea vegetables, you will get all the sodium that your body needs from their naturally occurring minerals.
If you do choose to flavor your foods with a little salt, keep in mind that not all salt is the same. The common white table salt that is most readily available is highly refined to sodium chloride with almost all other trace minerals removed. It can hardly be considered a true food and it is comparable to white bread, white rice, or white sugar in the sense that it has undergone artificial transformation from its original state. Try Celtic or Himalayan salt for a more natural, unrefined flavor and only use a very small amount. However, if you are avoiding salt, remember that the natural varieties are no lower in sodium than regular table salt. Try using herbs and spices for flavoring food.
High sodium intake has been associated with high blood pressure (hypertension) which can be a dangerous condition that increases risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Blood pressure testing is generally part of a routine medical exam. An inflatable cuff is wrapped around your arm and a nurse will listen with a stethoscope to obtain a reading, which usually takes only about a minute. You will be given two numbers, systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. These indicate the pressure of the blood flow when your heart contracts and the pressure measured between heartbeats. Normal is considered 120 (systolic) and 80 (diastolic). Prehypertension is 120-139 (systolic) or 80-89 (diastolic). There are also higher numbers that indicate Stage 1 and Stage 2 hypertension.
If you have prehypertension or hypertension your doctor will recommend that you make some lifestyle changes such as reducing salt consumption, exercising, refraining from smoking and drinking alcohol, and losing weight if overweight. Taste buds can adjust in a short period of time to a lower amount of salt. Be patient and before you know it, the foods you used to love that were loaded with salt will soon taste overwhelmingly salty. You will begin to appreciate the true flavors of food that were once covered up with unnecessary salt.
Corinne Goff is a Registered Dietitian who is absolutely passionate about food, health, and nutrition. Corinne has a BA in Psychology from Salve Regina University and a BS in Nutrition from the University of Rhode Island. As a nutritionist, her objective is to help people reach their health goals by offering a personalized holistic approach to wellness that incorporates natural foods and lifestyle changes. She works together with her clients to develop daily improvements that they feel comfortable with and that are realistic. She believes that the focus on wholesome, nutrient-rich, real food, is the greatest possible way to become healthier, have more energy, decrease chances of chronic disease, and feel your best.