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Changing Your Salt Habit

Consumer Conscious

Salt Shaker Researchers and doctors across the world have found that a diet high in sodium contributes to a number of health risks, including high blood pressure. This is not breaking news to many Americans, especially those already at a high risk of heart disease, stroke and certain kinds of cancers. It also may not come as a surprise to the many people whose doctors have continuously recommended a low-sodium diet in an attempt to decrease these and other health conditions. But this may be more difficult than simply removing the salt shaker from the dinner table.

Over 70 percent of a person's salt intake is derived from processed foods, so skipping that sprinkling of salt at dinner is not a sufficient way to cut the salt in your diet. Using salt substitutes or alternatives like NoSalt is an easy way to add flavor to your food without the sodium. Another way to prevent sodium from entering your kitchen and your body is to keep your eyes open at the food source itself, the grocery store.

Following these grocery shopping tips can help reduce the salt in you and your family's diet:

Always Read the Label

Salt has many different names. So even if you make the extra effort to read food labels and search for the amount of salt in the product, it can be difficult to determine. The following list contains a few of salt's aliases: Sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, sodium benzoate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrate and disodium. Other products with a large sodium content include hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy sauce, miso and brine.

Interpreting the Labels

The U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is making an effort to create public awareness of the amount of salt in store products. "By appropriately labeling, we are attempting to inform the public and those who want to keep their sodium intake down as to the amount of sodium they are consuming," says Ida Yoder, a chemist with the FDA's over-the-counter drug products division.

But some salt descriptors are not so cut and dry. Use the flowing list as a guideline to help determine the approximate number of milligrams of salt in a product: No Salt Symbol

  • Sodium free -- Contains less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
  • Very low sodium -- 35 mg or less per serving
  • Low Sodium -- 140 mg or less per serving Reduced Sodium -- Contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the original product
  • Without added salt -- No salt is added during processing to a product which would normally have salt added
  • No salt added -- Unsalted

Fresh is Best

Avoid processed foods in the grocery store and head directly to the fresh fruit and vegetable aisle instead. Rather than adding salt to these fresh food items while cooking, use unsalted butter or salt alternatives. Many salt substitutes, such as NoSalt, are sodium-free but taste like the real thing. By incorporating salt substitutes and other spices into your cooking, you can still add flavor to food while skipping the sodium. You can also use a variety of spice substitutes as salt alternatives like Seasoned NoSalt.

If you do buy canned vegetables, rinsing them in water for one minute can reduce their sodium content by 40 percent. Also, it is important to resist the temptation of fast food, which also usually has a high salt content.

While making these tips habits on your trips to the grocery store can help reduce your sodium intake, health professionals recommend an even larger, overall change in diet. One diet that specifically addresses the issue of hypertension is the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH), a diet formulated by clinicians and researchers at Harvard University.

The DASH diet is based on increased servings of fruits and vegetables and the inclusion of low fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry and fish. The diet provides the right amount of fiber, adequate vitamins and antioxidants while limiting sodium and fat intake.

Consulting with your physician is the best and safest ways to address high blood pressure and the treatment of other health concerns. But by taking the initiative to start eating a healthier diet, you begin taking responsibility for your own health and well-being.

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