What do fried ham, pickles, sauerkraut, chips, sausages and most other tasty goodies have in common? You guessed it… salt! Lots of it. Table salt, to be exact, known to chemists as sodium chloride.
You have probably heard that too much sodium on a daily basis is bad for you. But, what has too much sodium and how can you reduce your intake? And most importantly, why is excessive sodium bad for your health?
Sodium, as any high school chemistry or biology teacher would love to explain, is an essential element to our bodies. It makes up to 0.2% of our chemistry and helps keep our cells hydrated through a process known as osmosis. It also helps in crucial areas, such as the communication between neurons and muscle cells.
Most of the sodium in your body travels around in the blood and lymph circulatory system. The main thing that you need to know is that tissues that have too much sodium will need to retain more water in order to function properly.
If you have an excess of sodium in your body, you will become bloated, as less and less water leaves your body. Your fingers and arms become puffy, your energy level goes down and hypertension is just around the corner.
Heavy sodium intake is the main cause for high blood pressure. However, there are so many things that you can do to not be among the 78 million Americans with hypertension.
What can you do to reduce your daily sodium intake?
- First, check out your diet. What are the main sources of sodium in your diet? Do you eat fast-food every day? Semi-prepared foods? A lot of pastries (they contain baking soda, still sodium)? Can you not live a day without pickles?
- When you have your answer to #1, either eat less of that food or remove it from your diet altogether. Reducing a bit here and there will make a big difference.
- Cook your own food with fresh or frozen ingredients. Add only a little bit of salt for taste.
- Buy fresh rather than packaged or processed meat.
- When cooking, use individual spices that have no salt added and only add salt in small amounts.
- Replace cheeses that need to mature in brine with other cheeses from their category.
- Try eating pickles prepared with vinegar rather than salt (still tasty and crunchy, but much healthier).
- Check the dietary information on ready-prepared foods if you can't cook at home. Along with the carbs, proteins and lipids, the sodium content is always present on the label.
In time, you can easily get used to less salty foods… you may even grow to prefer them! You will appreciate the actual taste of food much more and your heart will thank you in the long run.