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Tracking the rock

December 9, 2010 - Kathie Evanoff
Here’s a trivia question. What is the only rock we eat? We do, after all, eat animals and we eat plants, which all include various minerals that when solidified I suppose they could be considered rocks, but this answer is an actual rock we eat on a pretty regular basis. And, as it turns out, we eat a heck of a lot of it. So much so, in fact, that we eat too much of it and although we need it to be healthy, too much can be harmful. The answer is salt and it’s everywhere.

A recent trip to the doctor’s office revealed my blood pressure was a little too high for his comfort, so he advised a low-sodium diet that consisted of no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day. I’ve never had a problem with swelling ankles or anything like that, but I generally do what I’m told, so I began to monitor my daily salt intake. It’s easy to do. Simply keep a small notebook handy and when you plan to eat something, write down the sodium content. Nearly everything is labeled these days and all labels have the sodium content right there on the packaging. The difficulty is keeping it around that 2,000 milligrams.

Many foods naturally contain salt, so we can’t just determine our salt content based on what comes out of shaker. An egg can contain as much as 70 milligrams of sodium in itself, without adding anything.

For a visual of how much is too much, keep in mind that one teaspoon of salt is around 1,000 milligrams of sodium. It gets a bit more difficult to keep an accurate count if we eat out at restaurants. And it is virtually impossible to stay within the guidelines if you eat a lot of processed foods. But with some practice, after a while, it gets easier to determine which foods are higher in salt and should be avoided and which ones are safe, provided we maintain the proper serving sizes.

Let’s be realistic here. During a recent dinner preparation, the husband thought he was doing a good thing by serving something that contained 450 milligrams of sodium.

“That’s per serving,” I said.

“No, it’s the whole jar,” he said.

“Look again,” I said.

He did and quickly realized the entire jar contained four to six servings and the salt percentage was, in fact, per serving. Serving sizes, designated by the manufacturer, aren’t what most people would likely eat. The entire jar was 12 ounces. Divide that by four and you have only two ounces per serving. Not many people would be satisfied with only two ounces.

I don’t remember what the product was. It could have been a jarred gravy mix or some sort of sauce, but that isn’t the point. The point is to read carefully the labels and pay close attention to serving sizes when making any determination, whether it’s sodium, fat grams or calories.

To make it easier, it’s nice to know that most chain restaurants have nutritional information online and it is easily found by doing a simple search. For example, I found that my favorite lunch sandwich from a local restaurant was well within my guidelines provided I made adjustments to the meal, which meant I only ordered half the sandwich and substituted the side dishes with vegetables or salad. (Even the sodium content in the salad dressing had to be considered, so I opted for oil and vinegar and passed on the high sodium processed dressing altogether). At locally owned restaurants, you can ask that your meal be prepared without salt and they are happy to oblige.

At home, it can take a little preparation, but it isn’t anything I haven’t mentioned before, which is to use ingredients that are closest to their original form. The more processed something is, the more sodium it is likely to contain.

And keep in mind that even low sodium labeled foods can still contain a lot of salt. I found this out while looking for chicken broth to make soup. Low sodium simply means there isn’t as much salt per serving as the regular product. If the regular product has 850 milligrams per serving, the low salt version could contain 650 milligrams – still too for one ingredient when trying to maintain a low-salt program. Finally, take the shaker off the table. One night while having dinner, I reached for the salt shaker without even thinking and began to salt my food before I realized what I was doing. My intention was to use the pepper, but my hand grabbed the salt instead.

My blood pressure is under control. The sodium watch has become a habit now and I spend less time writing things down and worrying about going over my limit. And not only do I not miss the salty food at all, but have had great fun finding lower sodium alternatives to my favorite comfort foods.


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