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Lose the Sodium, Keep the Flavor

posted Feb 26, 2016, 10:55 AM by
This month, we’ve reviewed how fats, sugar and fiber affect heart health. This week, we’re focusing on how to cut back on salt without losing flavor. For a quick explanation of why excessive intake of sodium is harmful to our hearts, check out these articles from the American Heart Association.

Now that we have that background out of the way, we can get down to the details. Let’s start with new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ sodium recommendation: <2,300mg/day for general guidance. Further reduced intake to 1,500mg /day for individuals who have hypertension or prehypertension can result in even greater blood pressure reduction.

If you’re serious about cutting down on sodium, why not start by tracking your daily intake of sodium for a few days? We usually recommend tracking on at least 3 days in any given week, with at least 1 day being a weekend or non-working day, since we tend to eat differently when we are and are not working. Simply tally up your intake of sodium based on the nutrition facts panel of the all of foods that you eat in a given day (be sure to pay careful attention to the serving size to make sure that you capture your complete intake of sodium). If you are salting our food at any stage of the cooking process, keep in mind that 1 teaspoon of salt is ~2,300mg of sodium. According to the USDA standard reference data, a “dash” of salt is approximately 400mg – this may make you think before shake that salt shaker. Always taste a finished dish before adding salt because chances are, it has already been salted or there are higher sodium products in the dish. Once you have an idea of how much sodium you’re eating in a day, you’ll have a better idea of how much work needs to be done.

For the sake of discussion, let’s say that you are currently eating ~2,300mg of sodium per day, but know that you have high blood pressure (hypertension) and want to cut down to the 1,500mg recommendation (e.g. decrease your intake of ~800mg/day). Go back to your tracking list and see which foods were the highest in sodium. Whatever the culprit, ask yourself if there is something that can be substituted for these items. A huge demand for lower sodium canned vegetables, pasta sauces, marinades and dressings has brought many new products onto the market, so take advantage of it! Listed below are a few examples of simple changes that have significant impact:
  • Use low sodium or no salt added pasta sauce. Traditional pasta sauces can contain up to 500mg of sodium per ½ cup serving. Some no salt added pasta sauces contain only 40mg sodium per ½ cup for a whopping 360mg per serving savings! You can always add a little more salt or seasonings such as oregano, garlic, or basil if you’d like a little more flavor. 
    • Simple homemade pasta sauce: simmer 1 28oz can of no salt added whole peeled tomatoes + their juice with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic and 1 teaspoon each basil, oregano, and black pepper for 30 minutes to 1 hour. You’ll never miss the jarred stuff! 
  • Try making your own dressings and marinades or purchase lower sodium versions of your favorites. For example, bottled balsamic vinaigrette can have almost 300mg of sodium per serving. Make your own (without any salt!) for another 300mg per serving savings! 
    • Simple balsamic dressing/marinade: 1 part olive oil, 1 part balsamic vinegar, dash of black pepper and other herbs and spices to taste (we love thyme, dill, turmeric, basil, oregano, or sage) 
  • Use fresh or dried herbs and citrus zest + juice instead of salt to flavor your food. Have you ever added citrus juice to a dish but were disappointed because the citrus flavor just didn’t shine through? Next time, try using some of the zest for a burst of flavor. When marinating meats and fish, or steaming or roasting veggies, use a mixture of herbs and citrus for a robust flavor without any added salt. 
By just making these changes, you would be well on your way to reaching your goal of decreasing your sodium intake by ~800mg in a given day. For more tips and recipes, check out the American Heart Association’s vast collection!