The Institute of Medicine yesterday issued a report stating what many of us probably already knew: Americans are consuming way, way too much salt and it is killing us. According to the IOM, “Analysts estimate that population-wide reductions in sodium could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually. While numerous stakeholders have initiated voluntary efforts to reduce sodium consumption in the United States during the past 40 years, they have not succeeded. Without major change, hypertension and cardiovascular disease rates will continue to rise, and consumers will pay the price for inaction.”
The IOM recommends new government standards for sodium content in foods. It sounds to me like they are saying the only way this is going to get any better is if the government requires food manufacturers and restaurants to cut the sodium content.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, “hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects one in three U.S. adults – nearly 75 million people aged 20 or older. An additional 50 million adults suffer from pre-hypertension.” The FDA says an average person should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day unless you are African American, have high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes or are middle age or older, in which case you need to try and limit your daily intake to 1,500 mg.
Take a look at the labels on food you’re eating. A “healthy” frozen dinner, for example, may contain 600 mg of sodium or more. I find that processed foods tend to contain far more sodium than other foods. Restaurant meals are hard to gauge unless the restaurant offers nutritional information. But if you’ll recall, that KFC Double Down sandwich we talked about last week contains 1380/1430 mg for the fried/grilled versions. A sandwich like that will take up almost the entire daily allowance of sodium for one of those high-risk people I mentioned above.
I’m no doctor or nutritionist, but it seems to me the best way to limit sodium intake, beyond checking labels and keeping a tally, is to cook as much at home as possible. The FDA has some tips, but they are frankly pretty obvious (eat more fresh fruits and veggies, buy unsalted snacks). One that did catch my eye was the tip to consume more potassium, which apparently “blunts the effects of sodium on high blood pressure.”
Below, I will attach a bunch of other tips from the Mrs. Dash company and Robin Miller, author of “Robin Rescues Dinner: 52 Weeks of Quick-Fix Meals.” If you have been watching your salt consumption and have other good ideas, please share those with the group.
Sauce Swap: Instead of prepared sauces, make your own. In a blender, combine roasted red peppers (home-made!), balsamic vinegar, fresh garlic, fresh parsley or basil, olive oil, and ground black pepper. Puree until smooth. Add water until you reach the desired consistency. The same sauce can be made with rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes. Thick sauces can be used over chicken, fish, pork, steak, and vegetables. Thinner sauces can be used in pasta and rice dishes.
Better Broth: Make home-made broths with the liquid from rehydrated wild mushrooms such as porcini and shiitake. Soak 1 ounce of dried mushrooms in 1 cup of very hot water for at least 20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve to remove any debris and use the broth and mushrooms in your favorite dishes that call for chicken or beef stock (soups, stews, sauces).
Go Nuts: Before roasting, create “crusts” for chicken, fish and pork by coating them with finely chopped, unsalted nuts, such as almonds, walnuts and peanuts. As the food cooks, the nuts become golden brown, while adding incredible texture and flavor to the dish.
Vinegar In, Salt Out: Use intensely-flavored, aged vinegars in place of salt in sauces, dressings, marinades, and “drizzles” for steamed and roasted meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables. Aged balsamic vinegar is an excellent choice and when simmered over medium heat, you can reduce it down to a syrupy consistency (the perfect topping for chicken, fish, pork, steak, and vegetables). Watch out for “seasoned” vinegars, they often have tons of sodium.
Pantry Raid: Keep of hearty stash of salt-free seasoning blends such as Mrs. Dash. Grab these instead of salt to truly enhance the flavor of sweet and savory dishes. For example, nutmeg brings out the cheese flavor in dishes made with cheese (casseroles, egg dishes, etc.). Cardamom, cumin, curry, and cinnamon add warmth and depth. Oregano, marjoram, bay leaves, and garlic add robust flavor to Italian, Spanish and Greek dishes. Sage and tarragon add a wonderful floral quality to meat, fish and vegetable recipes. Start experimenting (when first starting, read the labels – they often highlight the ideal food “partners” for the particular herb or spice!).
Secure Some Cedar: Roast chicken, beef, pork, fish, and vegetables on a cedar plank – the plank adds a delicious and delicate smoky-sweetness to the food.
Peel Out: Just before serving, add the grated peel of lemons and/or limes to pasta, rice, fish, and vegetable dishes. The subtle tartness eliminates the need for salt!
Be Wary of Dairy!: Check out the dairy products in your fridge right now. Shocking how much sodium is in one slice of processed cheese, huh? Check all your dairy and cheese products (1/2 cup of cottage cheese has almost 500 mg of sodium!!), and opt for reduced-sodium versions when available.
Source: Mrs. Dash; Robin Miller.