Salt is an essential nutrient in our body but that doesn’t mean loading up on excess salt is a good idea. In America, 90% of people over the age of 2 (that’s including children!) consume more sodium than is recommended by the dietary guidelines. Because salt is so ingrained into our modern food culture, it’s hard to showcase the realistic dangers of this ingredient.
Excess salt intake can cause high blood pressure which places significant strain on your arteries, brain, heart and kidneys.
There are so many ways to reduce your salt intake and these are our top 5 recommendations – we think they’re do-able, have good evidence behind them and will definitely work!
1. Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Along with many of it’s other health benefits, eating a plant-based diet can help you reduce your salt intake significantly. Meats including red meats, fish or poultry are high in sodium especially those that are smoked, cured or canned. For example bacon, ham, sausages, sardines, anchovies are typically quite salty. Dairy products such as cottage cheese, buttermilk and processed cheeses can contain up to 400mg of sodium per 100g (the acceptable amount of sodium for healthy adults in Australia is 460-920mg per day with the upper limit being 2300mg).
Did you know that since the 70s, chickens are commonly injected with salt water to increase their weight, make the meat juicier and more flavourful? For people aged between 20 and 50, chicken is the highest contributor to their daily salt intake… something you might not expect! Current legislation also allows these chickens to be labelled as ‘organic and natural’ which is quite concerning. Studies have shown that 15% to 30% of a plumped chicken’s weight is saltwater. A serving of salted chicken can contain between 200-500mg of sodium per serving which is over a quarter of the recommended daily sodium intake. This is in comparison to un-plumped chicken which generally contains up to 70mg per serving.
2. Eat Whole Foods
Did you know that more than 70% of the sodium Americans consume come from processed and restaurant foods? To reduce your salt intake, the best way is to eat a whole-foods plant-based diet with lots of grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit. If you were to buy processed foods, a trick is to ensure that the sodium content (in milligrams) is less than the serving size (in grams) in the label.
Everyone thinks of heavily processed foods such as potato chips, 2-minute noodles, cookies and pretzels to have lots of salt. But even the supposedly healthy processed foods or pantry essentials including broth/stock, canned soups, sauces, vegetable juice and salad dressings have a significant amount of sodium in them. We also have to be mindful of processed foods on a plant-based diet too.
Unfortunately our tastebuds have become accustomed to all this salt galore. Try to make your own potato chips and really see how much salt you have to add in before you get that delicious salt and vinegar taste.
3. Don’t Reach for the Salt Shaker
Salt shakers have found their way into millions of dinner tables across the world. Although it is common practice to add salt to our foods at the table, it is one thing that we could definitely do without. On average, the upper limit of our recommended daily sodium intake has already been reached even before we sprinkle salt over our breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is because of all the salt added during cooking, from the foods themselves and the extra added salt from the processed/restaurant foods we’ve consumed over the day. Therefore, we really don’t need extra salt on top of an already salted dish (and body!).
Instead, we recommend having the pepper shaker out only. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, be creative and season your food with different spices such as black cumin, paprika, ginger, garlic and cayenne. Adding in a mix of lemon, pepper and coriander is a favourite in our household!
4. Eat at Home
Preparing and cooking your own food at home is the best way to reduce salt intake. We’re all familiar with fast-food outlets adding in heaps of salt to their meals, but did you know that non-fast-food restaurants also have the same problem?
When I first started cooking, I always marvelled at the difference in taste between my home cooked meals and those at restaurants. Everyone in my family loved my pad thai, but to me, it wasn’t as flavoursome as the one I had at my local restaurant. When I re-made the dish the next time, I added more salt and fish sauce (this was pre-plant-based) and wow, it finally tasted how I wanted it to. I was still a beginner cook then and a sprinkle of salt seemed to be more than enough. My medical background was throwing off alarm bells everywhere when I added the extra salt… it really opened up my eyes to the amount of salt (and sugar!) that our tastebuds are used to in this day and age.
5. Give it Time
When you reduce your salt intake especially in home-cooked meals, the food will inevitably taste bland. However, studies have shown that within a few weeks the salt receptors in your mouth becomes used to the flavour and food will taste normal again (or in some cases even better!).
We had this experience when we consciously reduced our salt intake over a few weeks – no processed foods, less salt in home-cooked meals and definitely no salt shaker at the table. After a month or so, we had some hot chips from our local takeaway store and we were surprised at how salty it tasted. This was despite this being our favourite place to buy hot chips and we’ve had it before (and loved it). I also remember my lips tingling from the salt which had never happened previously!
Lowering Blood Pressure with a Plant-Based Diet
If you want to know more about blood pressure or other ways to reduce it then you’re going to love these articles!
- Salt and High Blood Pressure – the things you need to know
- How Eating High Nitrate Foods and Anti-oxidants can Reduce Your Blood Pressure
- Did You Know Flaxseeds are Potent Anti-hypertensives?
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