How much sodium is in your diet? Do you know? Do you care? Should you care? If you are like most people in this country you are averaging about 3000-3500 mg of salt intake per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day — or 1,500 mg if you're age 51 or older, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Sodium is essential in small amounts for your body to function properly. It can help maintain the right balance of fluids in your body, it helps transmit nerve impulses and it influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Your kidneys usually maintain the proper balance of sodium in you body by either holding onto it if you are low in sodium or excreting the excess. But if for some reason your kidneys can't eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to build up in your blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, your blood volume increases, which makes your heart work harder and increases pressure in your arteries. Such diseases as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis and chronic kidney disease can make it hard for your kidneys to keep sodium levels balanced. Some people are sodium sensitive and this can cause an even bigger and more chronic problem.
So, where do we get most of our dietary sodium? The biggest culprit is processed foods followed by the evil salt shaker. Some healthy foods have low levels of sodium such as dairy products, meat and shellfish. For some people, and you know who you are, the majority of their sodium comes on a Friday evening on the rim of a large glass at Mexican Frisch's. ;-)
Some easy tips on reducing your overall sodium consumption would be to eat more fresh foods and less processed foods, use herbs and spices instead of salt when cooking and to limit salt heavy condiments such as soy sauce, ketchup, sauces and dips. One of the easiest things to do would be to banish the salt shaker to the back of your "Baking" cabinet next to the two cans of expired baking powder, the box of semisweet bakers chocolate that has turned a pretty shade of grey and the bag of brown sugar that could be used to hammer nails. (Trust me you will never find it there.)
Your taste for salt is acquired, so you can learn to enjoy less. Decrease your use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust.After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, you probably won't miss it, and some foods may even taste too salty. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of salt daily — at the table and in cooking. As you use less salt, your preference for it diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the taste of the food itself, with heart-healthy benefits.
So the next time you're nibblin' on sponge cake or watchin' the sun bake and you order your margarita with the glass/small pitcher rimmed in salt, from the bartender (who not only knows you by your first name, but also what your usual is) ask yourself. How can I reduce my dietary sodium...starting tomorrow :-)