Giving up cheese, yogurt, and 90 percent of the processed foods I was eating in my vegetarian diet didn’t require a whole lot of suffering on my part when I became a vegan. However, when I decided to throw away all of my usual salt seasonings I thought I had also trashed any chance of flavor in my foods.
Too much salt is “flavoring” our foods
Unfortunately, many of us share the mindset that salt means flavor. We reach for salt or salty products to “taste” our foods. Take potato chips for example. Without salt on the chip, you have a bland-tasting chip, right? The problem is that various forms of salt – sodium chloride, monosodium glutamate, baking soda – are saturating our foods and snacks, most times before we pick up a saltshaker. Here’s what you’ll find if you turn a few of your snacks and check out their sodium contents.
- Rolled Gold pretzels – 230 mg. of sodium;
- Doritos, Spicy Sweet Chili flavor – 270 mg of sodium;
- Doritos, Nacho Cheese flavor – 210 mg of sodium;
- Cheetos – 250 mg of sodium;
- Barbecued potato chips – 213 mg of sodium
These are one ounce (28-gram) single-serving snacks that offer barely, if any, nutritional value. Nevertheless, to the delight of the companies that make them, the nation is hooked on these and other processed salt-laden foods such as breads, cheese, canned products, and luncheon meats. What we fail to realize is that choosing salt seasonings or salty foods is a learned behavior that can be unlearned. The danger to our health is a good reason to cut back on our sodium intake.
Excess salt leads to high blood pressure
I’m sure that my penchant for dousing my vegetable fried rice dish with extra splashes of soy sauce raised my sodium level close to, if not over, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2,300 mg a day limit. As a matter of fact, on the CDC’s salt home page, you will find that specific groups of people, like the 51 and over crowd (me), should not allow the sodium intake to exceed 1500 mg a day. Unfortunately, CDC numbers note that Americans are consuming sodium at a rate of 3,400 mg of sodium a day because of all the sodium that is already in the processed foods we buy daily.
These numbers mean that too many people are at risk of high blood pressure, which happens when too much salt increases the fluid in our bodies and puts pressure on our heart to pump normally. That extra pressure then puts individuals at risk for stroke, heart disease, and reliance on high blood pressure pills to maintain control. However, we can control how much salt we eat.
What we can do to cut our salt intake
Did you know that, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), our bodies only need 200 mg of sodium per day? Take this American Heart Association’s “Scoop on Sodium Quiz” to find out what else you do or don’t know about sodium in foods.
Just adopting a vegan nutrition plan has helped me cut processed foods and increase potassium-rich foods touted to wash excess salt from my body. Try substituting these foods for the high-salt ones you’re eating.
- Dry Roasted Almonds (95 mg sodium) or specialty brand snacks like Beanitos instead of potato chips, pretzels, or Doritos.
- Fresh juices, vegetables, or beans instead of cans.
- Hummus – garbanzo (chick pea) bean dip with celery, carrot, cucumber crudités
- Sweet or regular potatoes seasoned with Mrs. Dash products instead of salty butter or margarine
- Kale, collards and spinach – fresh is better
- Molasses – potassium-rich
Most importantly, read the labels on the processed snacks and other foods you’re consuming.