Salt is the most frequently used seasoning in Americans’ diets. So it’s important to sort out the facts from the fiction and make sure we know our salt facts for dietary safety.
Salt is an important substance that our bodies need. But too much sodium chloride, the chemical name for salt, can be unhealthy for our nutritional needs. In order to be a “salt-smart” consumer, you should be aware of some common myths about sodium that can get between you and a healthier diet:
Fiction #1: The Only Negative Effect of Salt is High Blood Pressure.
Fact: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the health condition we think about most when it comes to controlling our salt intake, but it is important to see the larger picture. High blood pressure can contribute to heart disease, kidney disease, and increases our risk for stroke. High blood pressure is associated with vision loss and some cancers. People with diabetes should also monitor salt consumption.
Fiction #2: We Should Be Sure to Salt Our Food Because Our Bodies Need Sodium.
Fact: Our bodies do need sodium, but for most of us, the naturally occurring salt already in our food is all we need. Unless we are regularly intensely exercising in warm weather, chances are we don’t need to add extra! Our species developed a craving for salt when it was in short supply for our ancestors. However, modern humans don’t have any problem finding salt. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 90% of Americans consume more than the recommended amount.
Fiction #3: Alternative Gourmet Salts, like Pink Himalayan Sea Salt, are a Healthy Way to Add Flavor to Your Diet.
Fact: Even in health food stores, we see more and more pretty (and expensive) bottles of “artisan” type salt products. Hawaiian salt, Himalayan pink salt, smoked salt, and gray sea salt are just a few examples. Some companies make health claims for these salts, asserting that they are purer or that they contain other healthy minerals. In reality, our blood pressure can’t tell the difference. The same holds true for “seasoned salts,” like “everything but the bagel” seasoning salt.
Fiction #4: My Sodium Intake Should Be OK if I Don’t Add Any Salt to My Food.
Fact: The saltshaker is only the beginning of the story when it comes to excess sodium. The CDC reports that 65 percent of the salt we consume comes not from the shaker, but from processed foods. Salt is an inexpensive seasoning, used by food manufacturers and restaurants to improve flavor and preserve foods. And salted pretzels or chips aren’t the only culprits. Almost all pre-packaged meals, including frozen dinners, canned soups, and sauces, contain a lot of salt. Even fresh chicken can have added salt! Even if the food doesn’t necessarily taste salty, it can still contain an unhealthy level of sodium. That’s why it’s important to read food labels. Luckily, more food manufacturers are offering low-sodium alternatives.
Fiction #5: Food Needs Salt to Taste Good.
Fact: People whose palates are already used to high salt content often think food must be salted to be flavorful. However, there are other seasonings that enhance flavor. In recipes, substitute spices and herbs for the salt. Try lemon juice on fish and vegetables. Give a salt-free seasoning combination a try. The American Heart Association says, “At first, you may miss the taste of salt. Gradually, however, you will start to taste more of the natural flavors of foods.” People who have been on a low-sodium diet for a period of time often find that processed foods they once liked now taste “too salty.”