Eating Excess Salt? Watch Your Intake

Agreed salt (NaCl), which is made up of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride, is critical to our life, but that said we need only so much of it. The recommended maximum intake for salt is 6 gm per day. This is the amount in 1 teaspoon of salt (2,400 mg to be exact). Most of us invariably end up taking in much in excess even in the non festive months.

And now with Diwali just behind us and Christmas and New Year parties about to begin, the oding on heavy, greasy food looks set to continue unabated. And along with sugar and fat, even the salt intake in this festive trio of months (Oct-Nov-Dec) tends to skyrocket, thanks to fried, heavily seasoned snacks (spring rolls anyone!) and other savory goodies. A fact we very often overlook in our preoccupation with ‘how much sugar are we eating’…

It’s time to reign in the intake before the damage sets in.

Cook right

Aim to reduce the amount of salt used in cooking – do this gradually as your taste buds may take time to adjust to the new taste. Alongside try your hand at different herbs like basil, chives, lemon grass, rosemary or coriander, and spice up food with spices like chili, ginger, garlic, vinegar, onion powder, caramelized onions, or cumin. Basically, cut your dependence on just salt for cooking a dish. Experiment in the kitchen, you’ll be surprised at the results. This is where a small herb garden will come in handy (there’s still time to begin growing one).

Know the culprits

Get this right – table salt is not the only culprit; sodium hidden in processed foods is a bigger offender. Learn to read the labels right to ensure that you don’t exceed your limit. Most packaged food products carry a nutrition label which states the amount of sodium rather than salt. To work out the equivalent amount of salt, multiply the sodium value by 2.5 (eg 1.2gm sodium is equivalent to 3.0gm salt). Take account of the portion size of the food you eat to help gauge the amount of sodium. Also, stick to buying foods which state ‘sodium free’, ‘very low sodium’, ‘low sodium’, ‘reduced (or less) sodium’, ‘light in sodium’, ‘unsalted’ – on their labels.

Understand these terms:

  • Sodium free means less than 5 mg sodium in a portion.
  • Very low sodium means less than 35 mg sodium in a portion.
  • Low sodium means less than 140 mg sodium in a portion.
  • Reduced sodium food contains 25 percent less sodium than the original food item.
  • Light in sodium food has 50 percent less sodium than the original food item.
  • Unsalted, No salt added, or Without added salt means absolutely no salt has been added to a food that’s normally processed with salt.
  • Also, beware of some naturally high sodium foods – bacon, canned / packet soup, canned tuna, canned vegetables, cheese, cold cuts, condiments, cooking sauces, ham, olives, pickles, salad dressings, salsa, sausage, soy sauce, tomato or vegetable juice.

Order carefully

When eating out or ordering in be careful of where you order from. Most restaurant dishes contain more than a full day’s worth of sodium. Some of the meals might even have four days’ worth of sodium.Try to stick to places that cook food as close to home food as possible. Have no hesitation in checking out details, minutely inspecting the menus and asking questions from the chefs and concerned people before ordering a dish. It’s your health at stake here.

Kavita Devgan is a Nutritionist, Weight Management Consultant and Health Writer based in Delhi. She contributes to the column Kavita’s Korner every Wednesday for this blog.

Follow her on Twitter here: @kavitadevgan

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