Maggie’s new book, 52 Tips for Low-Salt Living, is now available in standard print, large print, and ebook from Amazon, and in ebook on Kobo, Barnes & Noble Nook, and iBooks.
One of the toughest things about converting to a low-salt lifestyle is learning to deal with restaurant and prepared foods. According to the American Health Association, about 15% of the sodium we consume comes from the sodium that occurs naturally in some foods. More gets added during cooking and seasoning at the table, but the majority comes from packaged and prepared and restaurant foods.
Food manufacturers and chain restaurants often use salt as a preservative. Most canned, boxed, and frozen foods contain a very high amount of sodium. So do processed meats such as those you’d find in the deli, as well as pepperoni, bacon, and sausage.
Also, we talked earlier about the fact that most American tastebuds register too oversalted as being the correct amount of flavor. Restaurants therefore often feel they have to add salt in order for their food to be perceived as tasty. Further, especially in the case of “fast casual restaurants,” excess salt can also cover up the lack of other flavors. The net result is that most restaurant and shelf-stable or frozen foods are far too salty. This includes items prepared in the ready-to-serve and hot foods sections of most grocery stores.
Let’s talk first about canned, boxed, and frozen foods. The most important thing you need to learn in this area is how to read a nutrition label. When it comes to low-salt living, the key is to watch for two things. First is the actual quantity of sodium per serving. Do not look at the percentage as it’s based on the dietary recommendations for people not on a low-sodium plan. This will be as much as 30% more than your doctor or nutritionist most likely recommends for you. Besides, while the current FDA guideline is 2,300 mg per day for someone not watching sodium, the American Heart Association would like to see everyone consume less than 1,500 mg each day. So the key is to look at the actual amount of sodium and determine whether it fits within your target. Don’t forget to pay attention to serving size, too. If there are two servings in a container, the whole container contains twice the amount of sodium on the label.
The other thing to watch for are the words “reduced sodium,” “low sodium,” or “lower sodium” on the front of a package. These notations do not mean that the product is okay for you to consume; they only indicate that this product has less sodium than its full sodium counterpart. Low and reduced sodium foods can still contain way more sodium then you should be eating.
Also be aware that sodium hides in places you’d never expect it to be: protein powders, many “low-carb” snacks, some energy drinks, and more. Get in the habit of checking labels and remember that lots of low-sodium foods in combination can still add up to a lot.
A bit more bad news: frozen meals and most canned goods, including canned soups, are just going to have to go. There’s just no working the often-ridiculous amounts of sodium into any kind of reasonable daily goal.
But, on the upside, I’ve found some great packaged products. Kroger and Sprouts both offer no salt added crushed and diced tomatoes and Sprouts has sauce too. Sprouts also stocks no salt added canned black and other beans, and both Sprouts and Publix have no salted added tortilla chips. All are quite good and, as a bonus, they’re all store brands, so they’re affordable. Boar’s Head has a complete selection of AHA-approved deli meats and cheeses, including a really good, extremely low sodium roast beef and a very low sodium turkey that’s okay. Their lowest sodium Swiss is just 40 mg per ounce (compared to as much as 300 mg or more per ounce for other varieties), and there’s a terrific low sodium muenster that, unfortunately, no grocery store on the Southside carries. (I literally called Boar’s Head to ask about this after finding it in Douglasville and loving it.) I’ve also found two condiments I use a lot, Westbrae Natural Organic Stoneground Mustard and Beaver Brand Hot Cream Horseradish.
Restaurants, I’ve got to tell you, are tough. Especially if you’re doing chains. The amount of sodium in most restaurant salad dressings is horrific. The good news is that Fayette is home to lots of independent restaurants who are glad to leave out as much salt as they can. You just have to be willing to ask. I’m always surprised at how many people are uncomfortable with this. Growing up with food allergies, I got used to it a long time ago, and I promise you will too. Key danger areas to watch out for in restaurants: steaks and other marinated meats, salad dressings, anything breaded, anything made in bulk and reheated from frozen, pizza, and sandwiches (pizza and sandwiches are both on the AHA’s “Salty Six” list).
As I said in the beginning, converting to a low-salt life isn’t easy, but it is doable. Remember that it’s critical to stay mentally engaged. Your tastebuds will adapt faster than you think – I can’t stand most chain restaurant foods anymore and I’ve completely abandoned my go-to “healthy” sandwich chain. Don’t be surprised that, when you reach this point, your first reaction is sadness or irritation. That’s just your mind being bummed that things that used to bring you dependable pleasure no longer do. Keep focused on your whys, and on the fact that you’re feeling better and healthier. Ask for help if you need it, lean on your support network, and just keep plugging.
Before you know it, your low-salt life will feel perfectly normal.