Shake the Salt Habit

Salt and pepper shakers are a standard adornment of every restaurant table and many kitchen tables. Some shaker sets are even cute, disguised as bunnies, pilgrims or penguins. But it’s time to give one piece of the set a boot — the salt.

Sodium is a key component of salt. While sodium has its merits for adding flavor and helping to preserve food, most of us are getting way too much of it in our diets. Our bodies need some sodium to function, so we can’t eliminate salt and sodium completely. But health experts are advising us to cut back on our sodium intake.

Why? Excess sodium in our diets can cause high blood pressure, which significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. High sodium intake is also linked to kidney disease, heart failure, osteoporosis and even stomach cancer.

Sodium doesn’t just come from your salt shaker. Large quantities are hidden in processed foods such as canned soups, bread, cereal, soft drinks, “instant” foods, ready-to-eat packaged foods, condiments and obviously chips and many snack crackers. Restaurant food — especially fast food — also tends to be high in sodium.

Too much salt in the diet also can trigger cravings and make you retain water that can affect your weight. Most people should aim for less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day (6 grams/2,400 milligrams).

8 ways to cut the salt habit:

• Look for products labeled reduced salt, no salt added, unsalted or low sodium.

• Eat more fresh meats, fruits and vegetables and less processed or packaged foods.

• Limit smoked, cured or processed beef, pork and chicken.

• Read food labels and look for the brand with the lowest “percent daily value” of sodium.

• Don’t add salt when cooking until you’ve tasted the dish first. It may not need added salt. If it does, you can get maximum flavor with less by just adding a little salt at the end of cooking or at the table.

• Substitute herbs and spices, lemon juice or vinegar for salt to jazz up flavor without salt.

• When possible, rinse canned foods such as beans or tuna to remove excess salt.

• Keep salt shakers off the table to prevent your family from sprinkling on salt simply out of habit.


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