When I was completing the final assignment for my Nutrition and Wellness Consultant certification, I had to do an actual consult on a client and submit a report. My dad was in town so he volunteered to be my guinea pig. I had him complete a food log for about a week and then we sat down to go over his numbers. My biggest concern was his sodium level. He didn’t eat out much except for a weekly trip to Chick-fil-a and lunch at a local restaurant a couple of times per week. He didn’t realize it but during those meals he had been consuming almost three times the recommended daily amount of sodium!
This is very common as most people don’t log their food and they certainly don’t study nutritional guides at restaurants they frequent. How would they know? Don’t be fooled into thinking dining out is the only problem. Even at-home cooks can rack up the sodium levels with canned and processed foods. Have you every looked at a can of diced tomatoes? I pulled the nutritional information from myfitnesspal. I use this website daily and also use it with all of my clients to have them track their food intake and exercise. I am not bashing Hunt’s brand tomatoes, in fact, I use them all the time in my recipes. I just want you to see the sodium levels in one can. In my chili recipe, I always use two cans. On top of that I add canned beans which are also packed with sodium. I use these examples because while I know what I am putting in my recipe, most people don’t and that is causing a host of health issues that could be avoided.
Back to my dad; over the course of one year he took my recommendations and cut his sodium to 1500 mg or less per day (leaning more toward 1000 mg). At the end of that year, he had lost 25 pounds and was taken off both of his high-blood pressure medications by his doctor. By cutting back on his sodium intake, his diet also improved because he cut out processed foods and most restaurant meals. While it seems like an extreme measure, the effects were well worth any minor inconvenience.
According to the American Heart Association, most people consume about 3400 mg of sodium per day. That is twice the recommended daily intake! Here are their “Salty Six” foods:
So What Can You Do?
1. Do your homework.
The labels are there to help you understand what you are consuming. Read them! Most restaurants are required to post nutritional information in the store but if they don’t you can usually find it on their website. We have stopped eating at certain restaurants because there are simply no healthy options concerning sodium. Beware of menus advertising “low fat” or “low calorie.” Two major offenders I have found are Applebee’s and Panera who both offer “healthy” options and proudly post meals under 600 calories. However, most of those meals are loaded with unhealthy sodium.
2. Limit or avoid packaged or frozen meals, canned vegetables and jarred sauces.
Most frozen dinners (plain vegetables excluded) use sauces and seasonings high in sodium. If you like the convenience of canned vegetables, rinse them well to remove some of the sodium. There are many low-sodium canned vegetable alternatives available. Of course, fresh vegetables are always your most nutritious option!
3. Find salt alternatives.
Spices and herbs can be a great alternative to salt when flavoring dishes and meals. Mrs. Dash offers a wide variety of salt-free options.
4. If you have to use salt, use it sparingly.
If you have a recipe that calls for salt, try cutting it in half or leave it out altogether and allow the person eating the meal to add it at the table if necessary. Remember to pay attention to how much your salt shaker dispenses. Try shaking it in your hand before you put it on your food.
5. Exercise and drink plenty of water.
Your activity level plays a role in determining how your body eliminates excess sodium. If you are sedentary or a light exerciser, you excrete most of it through your urine, but if you are active and exercise vigorously, much of it is purged through your sweat. The average person loses about 1/2 teaspoon of salt through sweat for each hour of exercise. Depending on the intensity and air temperature, some people lose twice that much. If you have taken in too much salt and are trying to dilute it by drinking water, go for a jog or spend an hour at the gym to help your body purge some of the excess salt.
When you consume too much salt, your body tries to dilute it by holding on to as much water as it can. You may notice a bloated feeling when this happens. To help your body dilute the excess salt and decrease bloating, drink water.
Limiting sodium can be a big change at first, so start small. You will see big changes before you know it!
Source: “How to Counteract Too Much Salt Intake.” Healthy Eating. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2014.