Scientific evidence has shown a direct link between sodium intake and high blood pressure - one of the main causes of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Excess sodium levels may also increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, stomach cancer, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and even cause headaches.
Knowing this, it’s no surprise that one of the first things our patients learn from our physicians is the importance of controlling how much salt they include in their diet. The recommended sodium limit for patients with high blood pressure and kidney disease is 1500 mg a day… quite an adjustment for most people when you consider that many Americans consume up to three times that amount, or more.
Where is all that salt coming from?
Pick up any packaged food from your local grocery store and you’ll soon find out. Soups, dressings, canned foods, frozen dinners, deli meats, cheeses, pizza, crackers… even that innocent-looking loaf of whole wheat bread, contain a substantial amount of sodium.
Read the Nutrition Facts label.
There are lots of ways to break down the information on those confusing food labels but battling with percentages can be frustrating, so try this simple guideline…. for anything with a nutrition facts label, look for a sodium content of 150 mg or less per serving. Most people eat a variety of foods in a single day so this rule can help you stay on track without having to memorize everything you ate.
Knowing this, a glance at your favorite convenience foods may leave you discouraged, but don’t despair. Take a walk through the produce department… not many labels there. Fruits and vegetables will bring sweetness, crunch and spice to your meals – with the added bonus of healthy antioxidants and fiber.
If you like the convenience of canned foods, look for lower sodium options. You can also remove up to 40% of the sodium in canned products, like beans and vegetables, by draining and rinsing them before use.
Eat out less.
About 75% of the sodium that Americans take in each day is hiding in prepared and restaurant foods, and many of us eat out… a lot.
The first step in taking control is to speak up! Ask your server about options for lower sodium or no salt dishes. You may be surprised at the accommodations your local eatery can make, and even something as simple as getting the sauce on the side will help.
Next, cook. We know, easier said than done. In our fast-paced, fast-food culture spending time in the kitchen may feel daunting but preparing meals at home doesn’t have to be labor-intensive. There are plenty of quick and easy recipes for soups, salads, pasta and more, which can be ready in less time than it takes to drive thru the takeout window. Here's a chili recipe that can be ready in minutes: https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/plant-based-diets/recipes/yes-you-can-black-bean-chili
Like any skill, cooking takes practice. Start simple and focus on a single meal. If you’re not ready to go it alone, rely on pre-chopped ingredients from your local market or one of the many meal prep services available. A welcome bonus to cooking more often, in addition to lowering sodium, is that you’ll cut down on the added fat and sugar in all those convenience foods too… plus save money.
Ditch the saltshaker.
Did you know that a single teaspoon of salt has 2300 mg of sodium? That’s a lot! Because salt is such a highly concentrated source of sodium, even a pinch (and a pinch, and a pinch...) adds up fast.
Try this – mix it up at the dinner table. Replace your saltshaker with an herb blend, chili flakes, nutritional yeast, a bottle of lemon juice, hot sauce, mustard, your favorite vinegar – or maybe all of them! With healthier flavor options at your fingertips, meals won’t have a chance to get boring and you’ll treat your taste buds to some new and exciting flavors. Eventually, you won’t even miss the salt… really.
Season with texture and flavor.
Ketchup and mustard aren’t just for squeezing. Traditionally salty condiments are often available in “lower-sodium” versions which can be used sparingly or diluted to add flavor to your cooking. Eating the whole jar of pickles or olives may be out of the question but a single portion chopped into a dish can add just enough of that flavor you love – without the salt overload. Consider ingredients with concentrated flavors and a variety of textures like sun-dried tomatoes, liquid smoke, tomato paste, roasted red peppers and Tabasco.
Dried fruits, unsalted nuts and seeds are another great way to perk up your plate. Use sweetness and crunch to take the place of salt. Think outside the box - stir raisins into rice and sprinkle sunflower seed on your pasta, anything goes! Try creating your own personal topping by toasting your favorite nuts and seeds in a hot pan – don’t let them burn – and then adding a dash of chili powder, curry powder or other spice blend.
Include the whole family.
Making lifestyle changes is easier in a supportive environment. Being the only one at the table who eats differently can be tough, so encourage your family and friends to get on board. According to the American Heart Association, 9 out of 10 adults consumes too much sodium and children who eat a high sodium diet are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure. Just about everyone can benefit from lower sodium choices, so spread the news and protect the ones you love by shaking the salt habit together!