I love the taste of salt. When I was a kid, my family used to joke that they needed to get me a salt lick to satisfy that urge that made me scrape the salt off the bottom of the pretzel bag and eat briney, boiled peanuts by the handful. As a health-conscious adult (but still a lover of all things salty!), I take a lot of steps to make sure I'm not getting too much sodium -- and with good reason.
A comprehensive review by the Cochrane Collaboration, which provides unbiased scientific reviews in medicine, found that reducing salt is very important for protecting a person's health. The scientists examined data and concluded that a modest reduction in the amount of sodium we eat would cause people with hypertension to have 14 percent fewer stroke deaths and 9 percent fewer heart attack deaths, while people without hypertension would be 6 percent less likely to die of stroke and 4 percent less likely to die of a heart attack. That's worth adjusting your diet for! If you're ready to protect your body and reduce your sodium intake, here are some simple and easy tips for doing so.
1. Ditch fast food.
If you just need one more reason to cut your habit of eating Big Macs and fries, consider the amount of sodium they contain. Often, one fast food meal will have all the sodium you should consume in an entire day -- yikes! Eat less salt by opting for more homemade meals. They can be just as cheap and convenient: Just pack a PB&J; to eat instead of swinging by Burger King.
2. Rinse your canned veggies.
A lot of canned beans and vegetables contain tons and tons of salt, often beause it acts as both a preservative and seasoning. The best way to avoid all sodium in canned food is to avoid canned food altogether, but that's way easier said than done. If you've got to have your canned veggies, rinse them in the sink before cooking with them to take some of that salt out.
3. Use other seasonings.
You won't feel a need to use as much salt if your food is heavily flavored with delicious herbs and spices. Garlic, onion, red pepper, and black pepper are among the most universally appealing flavors that can be used in lieu of salt. Start experimenting with using seasonings you may not be familiar with, like fennel seed and marjoram. Acclimate your tastebuds to appreciate real food over salty cover-ups.
4. Choose sour tastes.
Human tastebuds perceive sourness and saltiness as being somewhat similar flavors. Pickles can sometimes be made with very little salt, but might still seem salty because they're rich in vinegar. Experiment with using seasoning blends that contain lemon, lime, or vinegar. Tart herbal seasonings such as dill and lemongrass can also be helpful for cutting back on sodium while still getting the taste profiles you crave.
5. Banish the salty condiments.
Limit your access to salty condiments so you're not tempted to overuse them. Get that salt shaker off the table and in the kitchen cabinet so you're not tempted to put it on your food during a meal (you might just be doing it by habit without even enjoying the taste of the extra salt!). Soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, and dressings also don't belong on the table. If you're using them as condiments, give yourself a single, small serving and then put them away.
6. Modify recipes.
Whatever you're making, be it a bowl of ramen noodle soup or a four-course meal from scratch, you can easily modify the recipe to contain less sodium. Simply skip the salt that the recipe calls for or use half the amount. If you're using something that has a "seasoning packet," like a lot of mixes for seasoned rice, tacos, or soups, just use half the packet (a handful of fresh veggies can make up for what you might otherwise perceive as a lack of flavor). You may end up liking the end result even more when it emphasizes the taste of good, quality foods over the universal appeal of salt.
7. Choose meats wisely.
You might be shocked by how much sodium is hiding in your favorite processed meats. Sausage, ham, deli meats, bacon, bologna, and hot dogs are sometimes absolutely jam-packed with salt -- way more than your body is meant to handle. Choose healthier meats or forgo the meat entirely (but note that soy-based meat substitutes often have a lot of salt, too). Favor freshly seasoned and cooked proteins over cured meats purchased from the deli.
It's not easy to cut salt from your diet. Not only are we made to enjoy the taste of sodium, but salt (and salty substances) are added in huge quantities to almost all our foods. But, if you take simple, one-at-a-time steps to reduce the amount of sodium you put in your body, you can protect your health in the years to come. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist if you have any questions about your cardiovascular health or want further advice on reducing your salt intake.