Salt is associated with not only food but a number of revolutions, from the famous Dandi March of our country to the French revolution. Without salt our food is flavourless and we cannot preserve our food. Without sodium our body cannot survive! It is needed to maintain the volume of our blood, the acid -base balance, transmission of nerve impulses and for normal cell function. This mineral, considered rare, is now freely available thanks to modern technology and food processing.
Historically, man as the gatherer hunter did not need salt for his food; the sodium content of natural food – from cereal grains to pulses, meat, vegetables and fruits – met the demands of his body. We do not really need to add salt to our food to meet the body’s sodium requirement, but when we became settlers and farmers we developed a taste for the mineral and since then we have slowly increased the content to a point where it is now becoming a health concern.
WHO recommends a salt intake of less than 5 gm/day, which is less than 2gm of Sodium/day. ICMR states that the body needs between 1.1 to 3.3 g of sodium or 2.8 to 8.3 g of Sodium Chloride aka salt per day to function. The actual intake is about twice this amount worldwide. The increase in sodium intake is linked to urbanization and an increased quantity and frequency of processed food intake.
High salt intake, a primary source of sodium in our diets, is linked to Hypertension, an increased risk of cardio vascular diseases and stroke. Low sodium diets are also recommended for people suffering from heart failure, renal failure and cirrhosis of the liver.
Eat less salt for good health; Image credit: Istock
How to Maintain a Low Sodium Diet
It is easy to eat a low sodium diet, just choose right:
1. Lentils and pulses are naturally low in sodium and provide healthy proteins, folate, potassium, phosphorus and fibre. While choosing meats, go for fresh or fresh frozen meats rather than processed meats such as bacon, sausages, luncheon meats, hot dogs, salted fish and frozen dinners.
2. Fresh milk, paneer, dahi are all low in sodium. Processed cheese like goat, ricotta and fresh mozzarella are low in sodium while hard cheeses like cheddar, and cheese spread have a high sodium content. Ice creams and frozen yogurts are in the category of ” go easy”
3. Fruits and vegetables, which are seasonal and fresh, you can eat any amount. In addition to being low in Sodium, they are rich in Potassium, which also helps control your BP and is complimentary to Sodium. Fresh frozen fruits or dried fruits are a thumbs up but canned and marinated vegetables are a high source of sodium. Tomato sauces and ketchup are also to be consumed in small quantities.
4. Whole grains and cereals in their natural form are the healthiest. Breakfast cereals made from these are also great choices. Breads, biscuits, baking mixtures, ready to eat cereals are where we add extra sodium to our daily diet. Ready to eat meals, bakery items like croissants, doughnuts all add a large amount of sodium to our intake.
5. Snacks are the main area where we introduce excessive sodium in our daily meals. Nuts and seeds are a healthy snack choice, however salted nuts and seeds are a no no. Snacks like potato chips, salted buttered popcorn and our favourite namkeens and commercially prepared Mathis are not only high in sodium but also fat and are calorie dense to.
6. Keep the salt shaker off the table, cook with just enough salt to add flavour. Sauces like soy, fish sauce, pickles and chutney’s all use salt for preservation, use them in moderation.
Natural foods are not adding the excess sodium to our diets, while buying processed foods learn to read the labels. Always look for the per serving content of sodium and also know the portion of that serving. Sometimes the nutrition label gives a per hundred grams nutritional information where as a serving may be 200-250gms, so the actual amount consumed may be way higher than what you thought.
If the product has more than 140mg of sodium per serving it is a high source of Sodium and if it has less than 5mg of sodium it is a no sodium food. Some labels list the values in %DV, then 5% or below is a low and 20% is a high source of sodium
Some Common Myths about Salt
Here are some –
- When I sweat more I need extra salt: Not at all, you need more water, sweat has very little sodium.
- Sea salt or natural salt is better: Salt is salt, whether sea, rock ,Himalayan or any other exotic salt, all are basically sodium chloride.They all contain the same amounts of sodium as the humble cooking salt.
- I feel weak with less salt: It is practically impossible to eat too little salt as all food has sodium in it.
- I have replaced my salt with low sodium salt: low sodium salts are usually potassium salts, which helps reduce the intake of sodium from your diet but does not help change your salt preference, key to adapting to a low salt diet. These salts should not be taken by people on medication for high blood pressure, kidney diseases or diabetes without consulting their health care providers.
Use Iodized Salt
Another very important point to keep in mind while choosing your salt is to ensure it is iodized. Indian salt manufactures have to fortify their product with iodine without fail, but if you prefer the natural varieties, keep it for special dishes and use iodized salt for the main part of your cooking.
Moderation is the key to healthy eating. Fresh food is the best meal maker. Between these two points you can lead a healthy life and control any medical issues you may be facing.
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