Salt Life?

I’m all about the Salt Life, but not when it comes to my food. Sure, if you’re running on the beach or kite surfing and working up a sweat you might need more sodium. But for those of us wearing flip-flops, we’re taking in way more salt than our bodies need. Forget the processed foods, I’m saving my daily sodium allowance for the margaritas!

Welcome to another Food Finances Fridays. My weekly grocery shopping trips have been greatly influenced by what I have been learning in my workplace wellness class. I’ve been making a lot more foods at home. This has not only  improved my health and helped me lose weight (18 pounds in 3 months!), it has also saved me money.

Why Not Salt Life?

I became a Health Psychologist after being blown away after learning about the effects our lifestyle choices (e.g., diet, exercise) have on our health. Not that all health problems can be eradicated by making lifestyle changes, but many (including heart disease, hypertension, and kidney disease) can be greatly reduced.

Of the 10 leading causes of death, most of them are associated with our behaviors. Sadly, medical bills are the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the United States.

A lot of caution has been give to the added sugar in processed foods. Today we will tackle another reason to eat whole foods: added sodium.

Research suggests that lowering sodium intake by about 1/2 teaspoon of salt a day may save up to 92,000 lives per year and $24 billion in health care costs.

How Much Sodium Should We Consume?

Our bodies need sodium to function, but I was shocked to learn that most people only need a very small amount (< 500 mg, according to the American Heart Association).

According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, too much sodium has been associated with hypertension (which can lead to heart disease and stroke), osteoporosis, and possibly stomach cancer.

African-Americans, individuals over 50 years old, and those living with diabetes or high blood pressure are at increased risk for sodium-related health problems.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommends teens and adults limit their daily sodium to no more than 2,300 mg. The American Heart Association recommends we move toward an ideal limit of 1,500 mg per day; however, we are actually consuming >3,400 mg of sodium a day.*

*A sudden and drastic decrease in sodium may have adverse health implications. Consult with your physician or dietician about how much sodium you should be consuming.

Where is All This Sodium Coming From?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40% of the sodium Americans consume comes from these 10 foods:

  1. Breads
  2. Pizza (sodium in the dough and cheese)
  3. Sandwiches (sodium in the bread, cold cuts, and cheese)
  4. Cold cuts and cured meats (all are highly processed)
  5. Soups (especially canned soups)
  6. Burritos and Tacos (we Americans love our tacos!)
  7. Snacks (e.g., chips, pretzels, crackers)
  8. Poultry (we pay up to $0.42 per pound more for added salt and water)
  9. Cheese (some cheeses have more salt than seawater)
  10. Eggs and Omelets  (many of us add salt and cheese)

How Can We Reduce Sodium?

Eat Minimally Processed Food

Photo by Dan Gold

The best way to reduce sodium is to eat fresh foods. Remember that real food (such as fruits and vegetables) don’t require a nutrition label.

When buying processed foods, read the nutrition label. Many processed foods use sodium as a preservative, so they may be filled with sodium without tasting salty.

Homemade is best

Prepare meals and seasonings at home as much as possible. Restaurant meals are often filled with sodium, sometime as much as a day’s limit in one meal! When you do go out to eat, avoid adding extra salt to your dish.

Other Sources of Flavor

Remember that salt, fat, and sugar aren’t the only way to add flavor. Experiment with:

  • Herbs (basil, rosemary, cilantro)
  • Spices (curry, cinnamon, nutmeg)
  • Peppers (jalapeno, habanero, anaheim)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Fresh citrus juices (lemon, lime, orange juice)
  • Vinegar (balsamic, apple cider, red wine vinegar)
  • Wood (grilling over hickory chips or cooking on cedar planks)

What’s In My Pantry?

There are a number of staples that we keep in our pantry. With these dried spices and fresh produce, we can add flavor to any dish:

Dried Spices
Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Cayenne
  • Paprika
  • Dried Oregano, Basil, and Parsley flakes
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • Bay leaves
  • Curry Powder
  • Cinnamon

TIP: Look for spices in your grocery store’s ethnic aisle. They are usually cheaper and are exactly the same as other spices.

Fresh products
  • White onion
  • Garlic
  • Fresh basil
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Limes

Favorite Homemade Recipes

With these staples, you can make a number of delicious and easy-to-make recipes. Each of these contain less sodium than store or restaurant bought products and most recipes and cost comparison can be found on the previous post Is Homemade Food Really Cheaper?:

  • Taco seasoning
  • Chili spice
  • Soup broth
  • Tomato sauce for pasta and pizza
  • Pizza dough (takes only 10 minutes to make!)
  • Salsa
  • Pico de gallo
  • Guacamole
  • Dill potato salad
  • Curried rice and veggies
  • Gourmet pickles (the jarred ones don’t come close!)

Final Thoughts

I have always given a lot of attention to calories, fat, carbs, sugar, fiber, and protein. But I usually gloss over the sodium content, that is until I can’t take my rings off the next day. By eating minimally processed food, I’ve been saving money, losing weight, and living a healthier lifestyle. I’m saving the salt for the beach!


Are you living the salt life?

2 thoughts on “Salt Life?”

  1. I think that you are so right to focus on processed food. I read people’s medical records as part of my job and I remember once reading a questionnaire given out by doctors about general health and one of the questions was ‘Do you add salt to your food?’. I felt that they were asking the wrong question and should have been asking, ‘Do you eat a lot of processed food?’ As you state, preparing home cooked meals from scratch makes it much easier to control your salt intake.

    1. Hi Sam! So true that the processed food we eat has so much more sodium than the salt we add. I will be sure to note this the next time a physician asks. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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