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Less Salt, Please
Photo: Anka Draganski
You may be the salt of the earth, but too much salt can be bad for you. So what do you do when your doctor tells you to cut down or cut out on the salt?

It is not easy. Salt, sodium chloride, is in just about everything we eat. It shows up in many unexpected places. You can even find sodium listed on the ingredients of most soft drinks. They may not have sugar or caffeine, but that pinch of salt is usually there.

Why do food makers salt everything? Salt is cheap, it adds flavor, and it preserves food. Salt costs pennies a pound, but is used a pinch at a time. That is not true for many spices or seasoning.

Salt also adds flavor. In King Lear, Cordelia can find no greater praise than to tell her father she loved him “as the salt loves the meat.” Meat tastes so much better with salt on it.

Finally salt is a preservative. It keeps any food or drink it is in fresh longer. When shelf life is the name of the game, you add salt.

Choose Wisely

So what do those of us that have to avoid salt do? Keep your eyes open and choose wisely:

Some foods, sausage, lunch meat, smoked fish, or chips, require or have a high salt content. Most dried or smoked meats or fish use salt as part of the cure—the preserving process. All you can do with these is avoid them. If you cannot avoid them entirely, eat only small amounts.

Be careful about bread. Check the sodium content of most bread and you may be shocked. You can make sourdoughs breads salt-free, but anything that uses baking soda is going to have a high salt content. Look at the bright side—knock off the bread, and you are going to lose weight. Your doctor will love you.

Look for salt-free alternatives. If you check store shelves, you can find low-salt and no-salt substitutes for many products. You can even find salt-free chips. Does it make a difference? Yup. One tablespoon of standard ketchup has 190 milligrams of salt. An equal amount of salt-free ketchup had 10 milligrams.

Read ingredients. Even if you cannot find a no-salt version of your favorite food, you might find a wide variation in the sodium level in different brands or types. For example Swiss cheese has about one-third the sodium of most other cheeses, and you can find variations in the salt among different brands.

Cut back on dining out. Few restaurants give “low-sodium” much play. Bring a lunch from home, rather than dining at the office cafeteria.

Look for high-potassium foods. As you cut back on salt your body substitutes potassium. You need more potassium. Salt-free nuts and bananas are good sources of potassium. 

It is not easy to cut back on salt. If your doctor tells you to do it, your body will thank you for doing it.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2012 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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