Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Walk Down Sodium Lane

Photo: The Sacramento Bee

As you know, I do not believe in perfection. "The perfect is the enemy of the good", as Voltaire so eloquently said (although it sounds much better in French). I believe in doing the best I can and leaving perfection to Bo Derek, or Itzhak Perlman...

But certain things require a slightly greater effort in that, if you don't really truly try your best, you could end up in bad, bad shape. Like sodium intake, for instance.

Sodium is important to our bodies. It's an element that we do need to be healthy. The problem is, when you overdo the sodium, you risk high blood pressure, leading to heart attacks and strokes--need I say more?

Although the recommended intake is no more than 1,500 grams per day, in North America we average double that amount. Worse yet, as usual, that "recommended intake" is no doubt for a mysterious, 5'10", 150-pound male stranger. That leaves many of us needing even LESS salt.

Even if you personally use very little salt, salt is everywhere.

Processed foods contain excessive amounts of sodium. Just take a walk down the aisles of your local grocery store: peanut butter (if you don't specifically buy the no salt, no sugar version), salted butter, salted margarine, tinned soups, cheeses, bread, cereals, salad dressings, crackers, meals in a box...Clamato juice, BABY FOOD for crying out loud. Oh, and let's not forget restaurant food. It just makes me want to cringe.

Interestingly, some countries have more sodium added to their foods than others. Canadian food businesses are a prime culprit. Our canned soups have more salt than the same soups in the States. The companies say that that's the way we like our food. I say: "no one asked me!"

So what's the solution? Eat fewer processed foods and buy the low or no-salt versions of foods you like. In my house, we haven't bought regular peanut butter in so many years that on the rare occasions when I taste "regular" (read: salted and sugared) peanut butter, my tastebuds are in shock. Read labels. When you have the choice, buy the lower salt version. It might also be the version that contains fewer, or no, preservatives.

And of course, the best line of defence: try to buy fresh, unprocessed food and don't add extra salt.


  1. I never use salt in cooking. I don't like the taste at all. BUT I never check labels either for sodium. I think the only time I have checked was when I used to buy frozen dinners.

    I'm gonna check out our peanut butter!

  2. Hi Wendy. I personally have to be careful to have enough salt esp when eating only non-processed food. I feel very unwell if I don't get enough as I have low blood pressure.

    I have also noticed a slight psychological effect of not having enough salt - feeling distressed. Low salt diets (where people are deliberately reducing their salt to low levels) have been proven to cause low mood.

    A much better answer is not to eat ultra low levels of salt, but to boost other minerals particularly potassium and calcium. This is clinically proven to lower blood pressure.

    Bearfriend xx

  3. I tend to use a lot of salt, have been trying to add less. I do buy the hippie crunchy granola, just peanuts, and a lot of the food I eat I do process myself, And I add salt, soy sauce, whatever. I even like msg. I'm not sure that it's true that everybody is salt sensitive, though. I'll have to research it a bit, but does it really matter for people who don't have or aren't susceptible to high blood pressure? Then again, my mom continuously tell me that I may not have it now, but wait 'til I'm her age.

  4. I certainly agree that cooking fresh, unprocessed food at home is the best way to go. I've found that by eating like that, I have changed my taste-buds. Commercial foods now taste too salty! Presumably, if I keep this up, I would need to add less and less salt.

    The kind of salt you use is also very important. I use Himalayan Crystal Salt (Google it) and herbal seasonings.