Here’s a riddle for you: What does salt have in common with the razor-sharp khanda used by South Asia’s Rajput warrior clans?
Answer: Both are double-edged swords.
Are salt and sodium the same things?
Salt is a biochemical that consists of two things: sodium and chloride. This means that salt and sodium are not the same things. Salt contains sodium, but sodium alone is not salt.
Sodium is an essential mineral that everyone needs. We all need to replace the amount we pee, poop and sweat out of our bodies every day. Most natural foods contain sodium, so this is easily done. Well played, Mother Nature!
On the one hand, table salt is about 40 percent sodium, which your body uses to regulate blood pressure and keep muscles and nerves running smoothly. On the other hand, too much sodium in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for strokes and heart disease.
How much is too much sodium?
According to the Dieticians of Canada, the average Canadian consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, which is about twice as much as you need for good health. As the president and founder of the Canada India Network Society (CINS), I know that some South Asian foods can be heavy on sodium, which is added to enhance flavour and act as a preservative.
A large store-bought naan, for instance, contains more than 300 milligrams of sodium, while some takeout rotis top 3,300 milligrams. You only need about 5 grams of salt per day, which is around 2000 milligrams of sodium.
The 411 on food labels
Nutrition Facts tables on food packaging detail the amount of nutrients, including sodium, based on serving size. When you compare the sodium content of these foods, make sure the serving sizes are similar. Pay attention to whether the label is listing the salt content or the sodium content, as that will make a big difference.
Also, if you eat double the serving size listed, you’ll get double the listed sodium. Generally speaking, look for foods that contain less than 10 percent of the daily recommended sodium. On that note…
Which foods contain the most sodium?
Most of the sodium in our diets is added to foods during processing. That’s why these processed and canned foods contain especially high quantities of the stuff:
- Soups contain an average of 790 milligrams of sodium per can
- Breakfast cereals
- Baked goods such as chapatis, naan, muffins, cookies and crackers
- Processed meats such as burgers, sausages, deli meats and chicken wings
- Ready-made dishes such as curries, pizzas, lasagna, and refrigerated or frozen entrées and appetizers
- Sauces and condiments such as dips, gravy, ketchup and chutneys
Which foods contain the least sodium?
Fresh vegetables and fruits contain much less sodium than processed foods. A fresh mango, for instance, contains just 2 milligrams, while fresh bananas and okra pods contain half that tiny amount.
Lightly processed fruits and veggies can be similarly low in sodium. A 100-gram serving of unsalted sweet potato chips, for example, clocks in at just 35 milligrams of sodium. Other staples of South Asian cuisine, such as rice and lentils, are very low in sodium as well.
Health benefits of eating less salt
Reducing the amount of added salt in your diet can have some big health benefits. You can lower your risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack. Something as simple as cutting down on added salt, whether that’s from processed foods or your own salt shaker, can help you lower your chances of developing high blood pressure.
As you age, your blood vessels become more sensitive to salt, which can negatively impact your blood pressure. High blood pressure may be reversible in the early stages, but once it becomes persistent or chronic, it’s typically not reversible through diet. At that point, medications are needed to control it.
Keeping your salt consumption in check is a good habit that leads to many significant health benefits. And, once you get used to food with less salt, you’ll soon find that overly salty meals you used to like are now too salty for your taste buds.
How to reduce salt in your diet
As you may have guessed, the best way to reduce salt in your diet is to avoid heavily processed snacks and meals in favour of fresh foods. Instead of canned lentil soup, for instance, make your own using this delicious and easy recipe for red lentil dhal.
You can also remove the salt shaker from your dinner table and measure the amount of salt you add when cooking, so you know how much you’re using versus guessing. Here are ten other ways you can cut down on salt. Your heart and your taste buds will thank you!
How have you reduced the amount of salt you eat? Share with us in the comments below.