Salt is undoubtedly an important compound. Wars were waged, empires were destroyed, and civilizations flourished because of salt. These fine white grains also ushered in food preservation and, to this day, enhances the flavors of food.
These days, salt is accessible and affordable. In fact, some would argue that it’s a little too accessible and that there is an overabundance of it in the modern diet. Health authorities have warned the general public against consuming too much salt. But is it still possible to enjoy delicious food without this key flavoring agent? Can low-sodium food still be flavorful?
Salt: Is It Really Bad for You?
It’s inadvisable to eliminate salt from our diets because our bodies need the compound to function properly. Its components—sodium and chloride—are necessary for nerve and muscle function, the production of stomach acid, and the regulation of fluids, blood pressure, and blood pH.
The problem is that excessive salt may lead to a host of health problems such as hypertension, heart failure, kidney problems, and calcium loss, which could lead to osteoporosis (a degenerative bone disease). The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute of Cancer Research have also stated that salt and salty foods are a “probable cause of stomach cancer.”
The American Heart Association has thus recommended an across-the-board lowering of sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day, which amounts to under a teaspoon of salt per day. (Other health authorities cite 2,300 mg as the limit.)
But just as there are studies saying that salt is bad for health, there are also studies stating that lowering salt intake in healthy individuals doesn’t really do much to improve health. As the Harvard Medical School puts it, “Hundreds of studies have looked at the connections between salt intake and blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and mortality. In general, they show that cutting back on salt lowers blood pressure and reduces the chances of having a heart attack or stroke. The trouble with these studies is that virtually everyone has flaws, which are pointed out immediately by those who disagree with the study’s conclusions. They are too short, too small, not like the real world, or influenced by factors other than sodium.”
This simply means that a blanket recommendation to lower salt intake should be, well, taken with a grain of salt. One person’s recommended salt intake can differ greatly from another’s, depending on lifestyle and circumstances. Based on more reliable research trials, the Harvard Medical School does recommend a low-sodium diet (with an intake of about 2,300-2,400 mg a day) for those who are 50 years old and above, who have high blood pressure or diabetes, whose blood pressure is increasing, or those who are of African American descent. Those with heart failure or kidney disease are advised to cut it down further to 2,000 mg a day.
If you don’t check any of the boxes and are in relatively good shape, then cutting back on your salt intake may not be necessary. However, it might be a good idea to start gradually lowering your consumption now, rather than waiting until you hit 50.
Keep in mind that most of the sodium in our diets comes from processed food and not from the table salt we sprinkle on our lunch. Opting for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, grains, beans, and lean meat will do much to reduce your overall sodium intake and improve your health in general.
You may be sabotaging your diet rich in whole foods by dousing your dishes with ingredients that are full of salt. You can keep well within healthy limits by using low-sodium ingredients, such as:
Low-sodium broth. One of the surefire ways to add flavor to a dish is to substitute water with broth. Ditch the commercially available broth that is typically packed with sodium and instead go for low-sodium broth, available at Healthy Options. Look for low-sodium broth ingredients that don’t include MSG (monosodium glutamate).
Low-sodium soy sauce. This popular Asian condiment unfortunately packs a big sodium punch. Low-sodium versions have about 40% less sodium. You can also consider a soy sauce substitute like coconut aminos.
Salt substitute. An alternative to table salt: Potassium Chloride. Potassium is said to counteract the effects of sodium, relaxing the blood vessels and decreasing blood pressure.
Bacon. One of the problems with foods like bacon and other breakfast meats is that they have copious amounts of salt to preserve them. But you’ll be happy to know that low-sodium bacon ingredients include healthier salt substitutes like potassium chloride. So, go ahead and bring home the (low-sodium) bacon! (Available at Healthy Options.)