4 Weeks to a Healthier Family – Limiting Salt Intake

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Drastic changes to anyone’s diet likely won’t last. Over the next four weeks, I challenge you to make small changes to become a healthier family. After four weeks, I’d love to know what you’ve implemented and how you and the family feel after this ‘Four Weeks to a Healthier Family Challenge’.

First up, salt.

Used for curing and preserving food, salt has been used as a currency, an antiseptic, a textile dye-setter, and an ingredient used in the production of paper and soap. It’s a versatile mineral.

The use of salt in food often makes headline news. “Campbell’s Soup Decreases Salt in Canned Soup” was one in recent years that received many cheers.

Let’s talk numbers.

The human body needs a daily intake of less than 500 mg of sodium to stay healthy: to maintain normal fluid levels, healthy muscle function and just the right acidity or pH of the blood. All fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and grains contain sodium, but not in considerably high amounts. A problem arises when salt is added to processed, packaged and fast foods or sprinkled liberally over a home cooked meal. Intake levels can skyrocket with each mouthful. For example, a fast food burger with condiments contains about 630 mg of sodium. Do you send a ‘Lunchable’ to school with your kids? It contains around 1400 mg of sodium per serving. Ouch.

An average daily intake for an adult should be around 1500 mg but no more than 2300 mg. A typical salt intake for a child would be:

2-3 years 1000 – 1500 mg
4-8 years 1200 – 1900 mg
9 – 13 years 1500 – 2200 mg
Over 13 years, same as an adult above.

You’ve heard it for years: limit your salt intake. But why?

Excessive sodium intake causes fluid retention in the tissues that can lead to high blood pressure and can aggravate many medical disorders like congestive heart failure, certain forms of kidney disease and PMS.

One teaspoon of salt contains about 1600mg sodium, so think about how much you add to cooking and sprinkle over a meal. A recent study published in Pediatrics looked at salt intake and high blood pressure in adolescents. There is concern with children having high blood pressure from consuming fast and package foods. It’s time to cut it out.

Is there a healthier salt?

The salt shelf has expanded over the years to include many varieties of sea, kosher and the usual table salt. The latter has had most of its minerals removed. Kosher salt is ideal for curing meat and its crystals are usually larger. Sea salt is made from evaporating sea water and what’s left has some trace minerals not found in the two above. Table salt with minute amounts of various iodine-containing salts added is known as iodized salt and helps correct iodine deficiency symptoms of thyroid dysfunction.

Some say that sea salt is healthier than most as it contains some trace minerals, but it has the same sodium content as the rest.

So, what can you do?

• Read the labels of what goes into your shopping cart. Every one of them. How much sodium per serving and what’s the serving size? If it’s too high, then put it right back. If there is a low-sodium competitor, go for it.

• Stop adding it to food. See what the family thinks as you decrease the amount sprinkled into recipes. If there are complaints, allow a small amount to be sprinkled at the table.

• Reduce eating out and packaged foods. It’s better for the pocketbook and waistline anyway. Look for simple recipes to make at home and ease up on the added seasoning.

• Use soy sauce instead of salt. It contains slightly less sodium than table salt and a few drops goes a long way.

• Cook grains like rice and quinoa with kombu, a sea vegetable that’s high in nutrients and only contains 180 mg of sodium per piece. Add kombu to stocks and soups to impart trace minerals and give a salty taste too.

Wild Rice Cooked in Kombu
1 cup wild mixed rice
2 cups water
1 piece dried kombu seaweed

Measure and place rice in a sieve. Rinse thoroughly. Bring water to a boil in a medium sauce pan, add in rice and kombu and cover. Turn down to simmer. Leave kombu in with rice for 15 minutes. Remove and discard.

Do you read labels to see how much salt is in the food you are buying?

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