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Processed Foods and Salt

Timeless Fitness Tip

Salting is one of the oldest food preservation methods. Salt (sodium chloride) helps prevent spoiling by drawing water out of the food, depriving bacteria of the moisture they need to thrive. Salt is also an antibacterial agent, killing some of the bacteria that cause spoiling.

Salt Shaker

At one time, salting was one of the only methods available to help preserve food. But today food processors have many other methods. These include pasteurization, refrigeration/freezing, dehydration/freeze-drying, irradiation and using chemical preservatives. (Note: Some chemical preservatives, such as sodium benzoate, sodium propionate, sodium citrate and sodium phosphate, contain small amounts of salt.) Each of these newer processes has resulted in the need for less -- if any salt -- as an ingredient.

So why do food manufacturers continue to add salt to processed foods? Here are some reasons:

  1. Salt makes food more flavorful.
  2. Salted foods such as soups seem thicker and less watery.
  3. Salt increases sweetness in products such as soft drinks, cookies and cakes.
  4. Salt helps cover up any metallic or chemical aftertaste in products such as soft drinks.
  5. Salt decreases dryness in foods such as crackers and pretzels.

Most Americans consume more than double the recommended daily amount of sodium per day -- in part because of a heavy diet of processed foods.

To decrease the amount of salt in your diet:

  • Eat fewer processed foods such as potato chips, frozen dinners, and cured meats such as bacon and lunchmeats.
  • Choose low-sodium or reduced-sodium processed foods.
  • Don't add salt to your food. Instead, use herbs and spices to flavor foods.
  • Eat more fresh, unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish and unprocessed grains.

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