Sodium and Your Health
An important pleasure of eating is flavor. Throughout the centuries, the art of cooking has gone from disguising the unpleasantness of spoiled meat due to lack of refrigeration to creating gourmet meals in which flavors can be rapturous. Unfortunately, many of the taste-enhancers we commonly use (salt, sugar, fats) can have harmful implications for health when overused. It is important to substitute alternatives.
Consider salt. Salt is a compound of two elements, sodium and chlorine. The chemical name for ordinary table salt is sodium chloride.
Sodium is naturally present in food and water, and a minimum amount of sodium is essential for life and health. The National Academy of Sciences recommends that adult Americans consume 500mg of sodium daily, though individual needs may vary depending on factors such as genetics. If you added no salt at all to your meals, you would still get enough sodium to maintain health. In fact, most Americans get far more sodium than they need. Most of it comes from processed high sodium foods where it is used as a preservative as well as flavor booster. On average, Americans actually consume seven times more than recommended, or 3500mg per day!
While the kidneys usually filter the excess, which is then excreted as waste, too much sodium can affect your heart health. There is a correlation between blood pressure and sodium intake. Among the population with high blood pressure, or hypertension, it has long been observed that restricting sodium intake often reduces blood pressure. Why is it important to lower blood pressure? Elevated blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke and cardiac disease, including heart attacks. It is considered a silent killer.
There are various methods for lowering blood pressure, including exercise, stress management, meditation and, of course, prescription medication. But reducing salt intake is perhaps the simplest place to start. This can be done by consuming low sodium foods or maintaing a low sodium diet.
Become adventurous with seasonings like herbs and spices. Herbs come from leafy plants and can be fresh or dried; they include common plants such as rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, mint, etc. Spices are fragrant plant products, often from exotic climates, and may be found whole or ground; think of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and pepper. Both herbs and spices add new dimensions of flavor, even a zingy tang, to ordinary foods. They can not only enhance but also transform the flavor of your favorite meals without adding salt, and excellent way to consume food low in sodium.
This is especially good news for those watching their waistline in the interest of a more wholesome, attractive life. Weight loss does not have to mean depriving yourself of wonderful aromas and tastes, nor do you have to put your blood pressure on the line by adding sodium to make your meals tasty. Eat less processed food, focus on the natural flavor qualities of fresh vegetables and fruits, and explore the use of herbs and spices as a way to limit your sodium intake.
For more information on how to eat healthy through low sodium diets, visit our Healthy Eating and Weight Loss page.