By Roberta H. Anding, MS, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily
Excess sodium is associated with high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to heart problems. Professor Anding provides some practical tips for reducing your sodium intake and increasing your potassium consumption.
To reduce your sodium intake, you first need to know where sodium comes from. Seventy-seven percent of the sodium we get in the American diet comes from food processing. According to Professor Anding, generally the higher the ingredient list and the more hands that touch the food, the more processed the food is.
Twelve percent of sodium is naturally occurring in the food and not added by the manufacturer. Some food items are naturally higher in sodium than others. Milk is an example.
Six percent of the sodium is added when we salt our meal at the dinner table, and about five percent is added during cooking. Studies have also shown that an individual preference for salt is not fixed.
Reduce Sodium, Using Substitutes
After a while, if you’re reducing the amount of sodium in your diet, you get used to the taste, and your preference for salt will actually decrease. You can use other flavoring in place of salt to help with the taste.
“Going to college and working and living in New Orleans and south Texas, I really love spicy food,” Professor Anding said. “So your food can be spicy, but it just can’t be salty.”
You can use chili, red pepper, and other spices, but you should flavor with a singular ingredient. A seasoned product with multiple spices will generally have too much sodium.
Other studies have also shown that the amount of salt people add to their food at the dinner table is generally stable.
“I’ve seen many individuals—before they even taste their food—pick up the salt shaker and, predictably, it might be six shakes, whether they want that amount of sodium or not,” Professor Anding said. “It’s more of a habit than a necessity.”
Choosing New Foods
Instead of focusing on eliminating sodium, Professor Anding recommends that you focus on food selection—more fresh, less processed, and less sodium-laden food items. Compare brands and inspect the nutrition facts panel.
For example, the sodium content in one brand of tomato soup might be over 1,000 milligrams (mg), compared to 700 mg in another brand that you like equally as well. Professor Anding recommends that you do this even if you don’t have high blood pressure now.
Simple ways of limiting sodium are to avoid overly processed foods including deli meats, prepared meals, and mixes. Generally, the more instant a food is, the higher the sodium content. Think about instant puddings, ramen noodles, and other foods that are quick and easy.
If you make pudding the old-fashioned way—with milk, cornstarch, and flavoring—it will have the natural sodium that’s found in the milk. If you make an instant pudding, you can watch on the label how that sodium content is going to rise.
Keep in mind that all animal products are bathed in saline, which is a salt solution. Milk contains 120 mg per eight ounces, while uncured meats—chicken and fish that are not overly processed—contain 25 mg per ounce.
Anot Balance your plate with 50% fruits and vegetables, which are where potassium resides. This way, you’re balancing the sodium with the potassium.
You can also limit condiments such as steak sauce, Worchester sauce, and Accent, which contains monosodium glutamate. The best way to reduce your blood pressure, though, is to increase your potassium intake.
You can do so by including more leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, and fruits from the vine in your diet. All of these items are rich in potassium, and they have been shown to favorably affect metabolic processes that can reduce your risk of kidney stones and bone loss.
Professor Roberta H. Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She also teaches and lectures in the Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine, and in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University.