To Cook is to Love: A Foodie’s Journal; Thinking About Excessive Salt Intake

John VerlindenJohn Verlinden
Photo: Rachel Power
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John Verlinden

John Verlinden
Photo: Rachel Power

By: John Verlinden*/TRT Food Columnist–

Breaking news: New health study — We are eating too much salt and it’s not good for us. Duh! I was surprised by the headlines that appeared subsequent to the presentation of a new Harvard Medical School study linking excessive salt consumption to disease and premature death. While some of the numbers from the study were impressive (excess salt is a factor in 1 in 10 heart related deaths in the U.S., and on average we consume nearly twice as much as the recommended daily allowance), this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to any of us.

The links between sodium consumption and health are well established as scientific fact. Our bodies need it to function properly – sodium maintains fluid balance and it keeps muscles strong and nerves firing properly. But, too much sodium can lead to fluid retention and raise blood pressure, and over the longer term, to hypertension, kidney and heart disease.

Most of us know that moderating salt consumption is in the best interest of our long term health, but how do we do it? It’s not simple, salt is in everything. And, it’s not the salt we use cooking at home or add at the table that’s killing us. On average, we Americans get 75 percent of our salt intake from packaged processed foods and from the meals we eat out at fast food outlets and restaurants. While cutting back on the obvious offenders (chips, cheese puffs, pretzels and salted peanuts) can help, much of the sodium we consume is hidden in other ready to eat processed foods including cereals, vegetable juices, soups, canned vegetables, deli meats, salad dressings, sauces, baked goods and more.

There are some simple things we can do to reduce sodium in our diets.

  • Make fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables a bigger part of our everyday diet and reserve salty snacks for special occasions.
  • Before purchasing processed packaged foods, examine the nutrition label and compare products, they’re not all the same. And, don’t assume that the sodium content listed on the label is for the entire package, check the serving size on which values were computed.
  • Be mindful about what you’re eating when dining out and request that dressings, sauces and condiments be served on the side.
  • When cooking at home, add salt as part of the cooking process, not after or on top. Experiment by reducing the salt in your favorite recipes and spice them up with peppers and herbs. Substitute sea salt or salt sense for table salt – they are both real salt with real salt flavor, but because the salt crystals are larger and lighter, the amount of sodium per teaspoon can be up to a third less.

*Share your thoughts, ask a question or suggest a topic for a future article – contact me: john@muchogusto.com or visit www.muchogusto.com and join our food forum. Until next time – ¡Mucho Gusto!, ¡Muchas Gracias! y ¡Buen Provecho!