High salt intake raises blood pressure. About this, there is little doubt. And high blood pressure is a major health threat.
But while health authorities recommend no more than 6g of salt (2,4g of sodium) per day, most adults who follow a typical western diet, get about 9 to 12g.
Salt intake doesn't merely depend on the amount of table salt one adds to food. Only about 20% of sodium intake comes from salt added to food during preparation or at the table. The rest is hidden in processed and animal-protein foods.
Be more aware of your salt intake by taking note of this list of the top-10 culprit foods:
1. Smoked, processed and cured meats
The list of meats with a high salt content includes ham, bacon, corned beef, frankfurters, sausage, tongue, salt pork and chipped beef.
Try to cut back on these foods, which often also have a high fat content, and use smoked or salt-cured meat products only in small amounts for flavouring.
Also rather opt for chicken or lean cuts of meat when you have a choice.
Pickled herring, anchovies, tuna and sardines all have a high salt content.
But fish should form part of a healthy diet, so it's not a good idea to try to eliminate this food. However, it could help to:
opt for fresh or frozen fish instead of canned fish;
choose tuna that's in water, and not in brine;
avoid smoked fish;
rinse fish such as tuna to remove excess salt.
3. Meat extracts and stocks
A favourite in soups, stews and risottos, meat extracts and stocks are salt bombs.
To cut back on the salt you get from this food source, replace pre-produced stock cubes and granules with home-made stock and gravies.
It's easy to make your own chicken stock simply by boiling the chicken bones with vegetables like carrots, leeks, onions and celery. Apart from having more control over the amount of salt added, home-made stocks also taste less artificial.
Also try plain or flavoured vinegar to flavour soups and stews.
4. Salted snacks
The culprit list includes all those favourites: from potato, tortilla and corn chips to pretzels, salted nuts, popcorn and crackers.
Are you struggling to cut these out of your diet completely? Then try the following:
make a point of including nuts in your diet, but always go for the unsalted varieties;
pop your own popcorn at home and use the minimum amount of salt;
check the labels of chips and crackers and always go for the reduced-salt products (if the labels only indicate sodium content, multiply the value by 2,5 to get the salt content).
Gherkins, pickled onions, capers and artichokes – all of these are preserved in a potent salt mixture.
Experts say that pickles are especially bad when it comes to monitoring salt intake, because the sodium content varies so much from product to product.
Rinse pickles to get rid of any excess salt water and always check labels for sodium/salt content. Also try to use these foods merely as a treat, and not as an everyday snack.
6. Salad dressings
Most commercial salad dressings have a high salt content. However, there is great variation among different products. So, it's important to check labels.
ask for salad dressing to be served on the side when you're at a restaurant;
and prepare your own salad dressing at home, using a little vinegar, olive oil and herbs.
Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, tomato sauce, barbeque sauce – beware of these products. They're usually packed with salt.
In fact, one source says that tomato sauce contains more salt than seawater.
Limit your use of prepared sauces. Rather use spices, herbs and other seasonings, like horseradish (wasabi), Tabasco sauce, lemon juice and vinegar, to season foods.
8. Prepackaged and frozen foods
The list includes packaged mixes for sauces, gravies, casseroles, noodle, rice and potato dishes, oriental foods, spaghetti and pot pies.
The problem is that most processed foods are high in salt without tasting obviously salty.
Here are a few tips to reduce salt intake:
get into the habit of checking the labels of ready-made meals;
never eat more than a single serving size;
and try to prepare your own meals at home, freezing it for later use.
9. Canned soup
A one-cup serving of commercial canned soup contains about 1000mg of sodium – almost half your recommended daily amount!
Buy soup products that say "sodium free, low sodium, reduced sodium, or unsalted", or simply prepare your own soups at home, where you have control over the amount of salt you add.
Processed cheese and cheese spreads are particularly problematic. And, on a gram-to-gram basis, blue cheese and feta cheese have a much higher salt content than mozzarella and cottage cheese.
Avoid processed cheeses and cheese spreads, always check labels, and be on the lookout for cheeses that make "low-sodium" claims.
Reference: Mahan, L.K. Escott-Stump, S. (2000) Krause's Food, Nutrition, & Diet Therapy: 10th Edition. Saunders.
- (Carine Visagie, Health24, updated April 2011)
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