Salt and Sodium: What’s What?
Tiffany Batsakis, MS, RD, LD
Meals on Wheels of San Antonio
People always tell me they don’t use salt, yet nearly 90% of all Americans consume more sodium than recommended and more than 35% of adults ages 18 or older have been diagnosed with prehypertension or hypertension. Furthermore, nearly 65% of seniors (adults over 60) have hypertension and only about half have their blood pressure properly controlled.
So, what’s the deal? Is salt bad? What is it exactly? Sodium is a nutrient that our body needs, but like most things, we need it in moderation. The common table and cooking salt that we use is 40% sodium by weight and most comes from sodium chloride. There are some other foods we consume that have salt such as baking powder, baking soda, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and sodium nitrite, so it is always important to read labels to determine how much salt is actually in the food you want to eat. Salt is known to increase our blood pressure, known as hypertension, by holding extra fluids in the body. This makes the heart work harder than it should and eventually can lead to stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, and other conditions. We know that high blood pressure increases mortality rates and it is a leading cause of death worldwide. This is cause for concern and various policy makers and health groups want the American public to eat less salt and for good reason! Estimations show that if we can help people eat less salt, we could lower the amount of cases of hypertension by 11 million and save $18 billion in related health care costs each year.
The majority of the salt we consume comes from packaged foods and meals eaten in restaurants. Unless you cook from scratch every day, you likely consume too much salt as well. The general recommendation has been to keep sodium intake below 2300 mg/d. People who are considered high risk- those that are over 51 years of age, African Americans, and people who have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, should keep salt intake BELOW 1500 mg/d.
What does that look like? Here is a table showing how much sodium is in common table salt:
1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium —1 Lean Cuisine meal; 1 Bean and Cheese Taco from Taco Cabana
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium —2 oz. of deli meat w/ a slice of cheese on bread
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium —One package of Ramen Noodles has over 1750 mg of sodium
1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium —20 piece McDonalds chicken nuggets with fries and sauce
It is important to always read labels. Salt is in everything and sodium content varies greatly between products. A good example is chicken broth. Some brands have over 800 mg/serving, others have less than 100 mg/serving! Next time you go grocery shopping, compare labels. A can of beans may have more than 400 mg of sodium per ½ cup serving. The no salt added product typically has 140/mg for the same serving size. Be mindful when using condiments, sauces and salsas, pickles, frozen TV dinners, canned foods, deli meats, and many other products. Try to minimize meals eaten out. By cooking at home, not only do you control what you put into your body, you can save money! It’s a win-win situation!
If your palate is accustomed to salt, slowly use less, and add other flavors instead. Try new herbs, spices, citrus flavors, and vinegars to enhance your food. There are many salt free seasonings on the market as well that you can try. Try the recipe below. It is quick, easy, and nutritious. It’s easily modifiable and best of all, it’s tasty and low in sodium!
Chicken Avocado Soup
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
2 Tbsp. Garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 jalapeño, diced
1 Tsp cumin
4 Cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth (70 mg/serving)
1 lb. chicken breast.
4 cups kale, chopped (stems removed, tightly packed)
1 Can no sodium added black or pinto beans (HEB Brand is good)
4 small (or 2 for less fat) Avocados
1/2 Cup cilantro, chopped
Juice of 2 limes
Heat a heavy bottom pot and spray with cooking spray. Sautee onions until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño, and cumin. Add chicken breasts and rinsed beans and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium, cover, and allow it to cook for about 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is done. Stir occasionally. Reduce to warm, remove chicken, shred, and return to soup. Let simmer another 10-15 minutes. Stir in cilantro and lime juice. Add diced avocados just before serving.
Tip: Chicken in the crock pot is a simple time saver. You can cook a bunch and keep it for whatever you need. If you do this, cook the soup, add your shredded chicken, and serve. You’ll have a simple soup in no time! Furthermore, you can place all ingredients except for the avocado and beans into the crockpot and cook it on low for 6 hours. Add the avocado and beans when done and serve.
Feel free to add chili powder and more lime juice if desired.
Can be served with tostadas, tortilla chips, or corn tortillas.
Note: Nutrition facts include only the ingredients in the list.