May 23, 2018
Did your doctor tell you to reduce your sodium intake? You’re not alone. 1 in 3 Americans have high blood pressure (hypertension).
Because we’re eating far too much sodium. 90% of Americans are eating more sodium than the daily recommended amount. The American Heart Association says no more 2,300 mg a day with an ideal limit of 1,500 mg a day.
Too much salt raises the amount of sodium in your bloodstream and makes it harder for your kidneys to regulate fluid. All this extra fluid leads to higher blood pressure and puts quite a strain on the blood vessels leading to the kidneys.
This is a big deal because high blood pressure can lead to all sorts of life-threatening complications, including coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, sexual dysfunction, and dementia.
So it's easy to see we've got to change the way we eat to get hypertension under control...but how do you actually do that? Start by taking these steps to reduce your daily sodium intake:
Always salt the water before you make pasta? Don’t freak out pasta purists, but it’s time to stop. At first, food will taste bland. This isn’t because the food IS bland; it’s because your taste buds have gotten used to a high fat, high salt, high sugar diet and by comparison, foods without those components won’t taste flavorful.
The good news is your taste buds will adjust in 2-4 weeks and you’ll be able to actually taste and enjoy the natural flavors of your food again because they’re not being washed out by fat, salt, and sugar.
Does this mean you’re not seasoning your food anymore? Definitely not. Cook and season with more onion, garlic, peppers, tomato, basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, coriander, curry, cumin to bring out the natural flavors in your dish. You can also add lemon or lime juice to the dish to give it a natural punch. Get more salt-free seasoning ideas here.
This study showed 22% of people add salt to their food before tasting it! Sound familiar? Grabbing the salt shaker may be second nature at mealtime but just one teaspoon of table salt has over 2,300 mg of sodium. By adding that extra salt to your dish, you’re increasing your chances of exceeding the daily requirement. Again, your taste buds will get used to this in just a few weeks so think of it as an experiment. You can do anything for a few weeks, right?
We get it. Going out to eat is fun! And we’re not saying you can’t do it at all anymore. But try to eat more meals at home. 85 out of 102 meals at popular restaurant chains have more than a day’s worth of sodium. Yikes.
Start cooking more at home. Make it fun — try new recipes or cook as a family. Save going out for a special occasion. Here are some dining out tips for such times.
Most of Americans exceed their sodium recommendations thanks to all the processed foods we eat. 75% of our salt intake comes from packaged and restaurant foods we buy at the store.
Why is there so much sodium in processed food? It’s used as a preservative but also, as a way to keep consumers buying more. Large food companies have employed scientists to come up with the perfect combination of fat, sugar, and salt to trick our brains into wanting more. Ever finished a bag of potato chips even though you felt kind of sick half way through?
When you cut out processed foods, you not only limit your sodium intake significantly, you also take control of what goes on your plate again.
A whole food plant-based diet is naturally lower in sodium. Research shows those who eat a plant-based diet have lower blood pressure than those following the Standard American Diet, which includes meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods.
Eating whole plant-based foods not only reduces your risk for high blood pressure, but has been shown to reverse hypertension.
Need some low sodium recipes? Check these out.
By Ali Brown
Ali is a nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.
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