In 2012, the restaurant chain Boston Market made headlines when it announced plans to remove the salt shakers from its tables. In fact, Boston Market was one of many restaurants and food companies around that time that began making serious efforts to reduce the amount of sodium (salt) in its products. The trend has continued with over 28 major food companies including Kraft, Subway, and Campbell Soup committing to gradual sodium reduction targets put forth by the National Salt Reduction Initiative.
So what’s the big deal about sodium anyway? Our bodies need sodium for proper pH balance, muscle contraction, and nerve impulse transmission. However, too much of this mineral nutrient can lead to health risks. Excess salt consumption has been linked to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, including stroke. In fact, an estimated 100,000 deaths in the US can be attributed to excess dietary sodium intake!1
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium intake to 1500 mg per day for anyone over the age of 50, African-Americans, or people with known hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or kidney disease. For everyone else, the dietary guidelines recommend less than 2300 mg (~1 tsp) per day. The average American, however, consumes about 3500 mg per day, well over recommended amounts. And although removing salt shakers was perhaps a laudable move by Boston Market, salt added at the table only accounts for roughly 10% of sodium intake for Americans; the other 90% comes from prepared and processed foods.
Therefore, one of the best ways to reduce sodium intake is to limit the amount of processed and prepared foods in your diet. Check out this post on one of my 6 Nutritional Tenet’s for more info on the topic. What about when you’re the cook? To reduce salt without sacrificing flavor, focus on herbs and spices. Adding fresh or dried herbs and a variety of spices, along with big flavor ingredients like garlic, citrus, or vinegar, means that you may only need to add a pinch of salt to brighten the flavors, instead of heaping on the tablespoons you may have otherwise added.
Check out the following chart from the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes guide, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
And finally, here’s a new favorite recipe of mine that uses tons of fresh herbs and a dash of vinegar to provide wonderful flavor, sans salt. Amounts listed for herbs are approximate—feel free to adjust based on your taste preferences!
- One handful fresh basil (One 3/4 oz package or ~1/2 cup)
- 2- 2 ½ handfuls fresh cilantro, stems trimmed (~1 ½ cups)
- One handful fresh dill (One ¾ oz package or ~½ cup)
- One clove garlic, chopped
- 16 oz plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ tsp pepper
Combine all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Serve with fresh veggies for dipping. Enjoy!
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake; Henney JE, Taylor CL, Boon CS, editors. Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2010. 1, Introduction. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK50945/