By Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFP
We regularly hear the dangers of too much salt in our diets, but what is the real story?
Sodium, a component of salt, is an essential nutrient that acts as an electrolyte in our bodies. Sodium attracts and holds water in the blood and is key in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Too much sodium can lead to increased blood volume and elevated blood pressure, increasing the risk for stroke and heart disease.
Blood pressure increases with age and so does the sensitivity of sodium and the decrease in the ability to regulate sodium and water balance. This puts elders are at an even higher risk for increased blood pressure.
Balance sodium with potassium
Potassium, another electrolyte needed in the body, helps to balance the effects of sodium on the blood. Filling the menu with potassium rich foods-like fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy products and dry beans, can reduce the risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. These products have many other health benefits too- all being high in vitamins, minerals and fiber.
How Much Sodium is Enough?
1500 mg or less
- Older adults (51 years or older)
- African Americans
- Anyone with high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes
2300 mg or less
- Children and adults (2-50 years old) without health complications
Learn to use salt-not over use it
Salt is an important ingredient because it is a flavor enhancer-it intensifies the natural flavors of food. The body craves salty, or savory foods. Many food companies and cooks rely too much on salt for flavor. The majority of salt in our diet comes from processed foods or foods eaten away from home. The goal is to learn to use, not over use it on food.
Here are some additional tips for reducing sodium in the diet:
- Use different cooking methods to impart flavor on foods without adding salt, such as roasting or grilling.
- Prepare foods at home “from scratch” or in their most natural form.
- Season with herbs and spices, freshly ground black pepper or marinades without added salt.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (frozen is ok, too) and low-fat dairy products, which are naturally high in potassium.
- When adding cheese, use strongly flavored varieties, such as sharp cheddar; but use less for the same flavor.
Many think that reducing the salt in foods will make it flavorless. A little salt will go a long way for flavor enhancement and other seasonings can help round out all the flavors. As we reduce salt intake, our tastes will adapt and not notice the lower sodium-and your heart with thank you!
Chef Beth Scholer is certified by the American Culinary Federation and Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals. She is a food scientist, culinary instructor, presenter, author and founder of Caregivers Kitchen. She can be reached at email@example.com
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Get The Facts: The Role of Sodium in Your Food. CDC, June 2012. Web. 13 August, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/role_of_sodium.pdf
CDC. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Sodium and Food Sources. 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/salt/food.htm
Scholer, B. (2015) Culinary Skills for Caregivers. Lakewood, CA: Avid Readers Publishing Group.