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The Low Down Between Salt and Sodium. Which to Reduce?

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I have searched many websites to learn the difference between Salt and Sodium.  Up until now, the only thing I found was that “salt” and “sodium” are not the same thing; however, the words are used interchangeably.  So, which is the correct word to use for dietary needs?  The word “sodium” is listed on Nutrition Labels, which are overseen by the Food and Drug Administration.  In fact, to help people decipher what’s in food items that we all eat, the FDA has revised food labels.  Therefore, it seems that the word “sodium” should be used in recipes.  Yet, I have never seen a recipe that has “sodium” in the ingredient list.

I finally discovered ShareCare, that provides a full explanation of the difference between “salt” and “sodium” and exactly what the difference is.  The chemical element for “sodium” is Na.  The chemical element for chloride is Cl.  Table salt is made up of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride, so the element for table salt is NaCl.

One teaspoon of table salt contains 2,325 mg of sodium.  Most people do not consumer salt by the teaspoons because they simply shake the salt onto their food.  I am continually amazed at the number of people I see in restaurants who shake salt onto their food as soon as it has been delivered to them without tasting the food first!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends in its most recent US Dietary Guidelines that the average adult should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily.  That amount reduces significantly if you are in any of the following groups.  If you are older than 51, are African American, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.   This same report states that the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day.  Translate that into “easy speak”, that equals approximately 1½ times the recommended daily amount of sodium.  The CDC report states: “eating too much sodium puts Americans at risk for developing serious medical conditions…”.

On May 20, 2016, the FDA announced the new Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods.  This new label will make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices.  The new labels include a link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.  The FDA published the final rules in the Federal Register on May 27, 2016.

Reducing table salt from your daily diet does not solve the problem because sodium is in almost every food substance.  Therein lies the problem.

All canned foods contain salt to preserve the integrity of those foods

  • Condiments
  • Bread
  • Lunchmeat and Deli Meats and Cheeses
  • All Cheeses
  • Fast Foods
  • Seasoning Mixes
  • Cereals

Four years ago, I made a series of “lifestyle changes” to help lower my cholesterol level.  I knew that making drastic changes “cold turkey” would set me up for failure.  Therefore, I made little revisions to my daily food intake over the course of a year. If you are interested, you can read both articles: How I Lowered My Cholesterol Level by 16 Points in One Year, Part 1, and Part 2.  I significantly reduced my cholesterol level and I found ways to cook that I prefer much more than before I started.

My son, who is a gourmet chef, provided a bunch of suggestions that I still use today.  One change that relates to the topic of this article was regarding salt.  Much of the reason people tend to fail when they try diets is they forget how strong their minds really are!  Mind over matter.  With regard to salt, your mind will revolt if you simply remove salt from your dining room table.  One of the changes my son suggested was to simply replace refined table salt with kosher salt!  Why does that work?  Kosher salt tends to be larger crystals.  You use less kosher salt than table salt because it takes less to equal one teaspoon than table salt does.  Additionally, because the crystals are larger, you taste the salt more, so you will use less.

The other tip that my son gave me was to reduce salt even more by replacing it with fresh herbs and spices.  I honestly did not know that “chili powder” is actually a blend of herbs and spices.  I just never thought about it before.  To make a long story short, the end result is that I now make my own chili powder, Italian seasoning, salad supreme, pumpkin pie spice, taco seasoning, ranch salad dressing mix, etc.  In most cases, I completely removed “salt” altogether from the ingredients and I like the spice blends even more now.

I took it one step farther and I now grow my own rosemary, basil, chives, etc.  I also grate ginger from the root, which I keep in my freezer.  I grind my own pepper from pepper corns because the flavor of freshly ground pepper tastes much, much better than processed pepper.  As with kosher salt, when you grind your own pepper, the result is larger crystals, which means you will use less.  Nothing wrong with using lots of pepper; however, using less makes it cost less!

Ways to Reduce Sodium Consumption

Keep in mind that sodium in foods adds up every time you put most kinds of foods in your mouth.  Each suggested tip will slowly decrease your “taste” for salt.  If you keep at it, over time, you will not even miss salt.  As I replaced salt/sodium with spices and herbs, I discovered that I liked MOST recipes even more than before I began making revisions in my day-to-day food intake.

  1. Cook from scratch.  When you make meals from scratch, you can control the amount of sodium in the foods.
  2. Add Flavor Without Sodium. Rather than just decrease salt, because you most likely will think the foods are bland and not like it, replace sodium/salt with a variety of spices and/or herbs.
  3. Fresh Is Always Better: Keep in mind that manufacturers include sodium as a method to increase the shelf life.
  4. If you use canned veggies, at the very least, rinse the veggies under water before using them.
  5. Watch the buzz word “instant”.  All products labeled “instant” include high levels of sodium.
  6. Taste your food before adding anything.  It amazes me the number of times that I see people at restaurants immediately shake salt on the food – before tasting it!
  7. If you simply MUST shake something on your food before eating it, try shaking fresh pepper rather than salt.
  8. Replace the common salt shaker on your dinner table with a salt grinder.  When you grind salt crystals, the end result is larger crystals of salt.  You will taste the salt more when the crystals are larger.  That means, you will use less salt.
  9. Read Nutrition Labels: compare the amount of sodium in frozen dinners, packaged mixes, cereals, cheese, soups, salad dressings, salt, spice blends, etc. to the amount in fresh foods.
  10. Make your own condiments.  I make my own Cajun and Creole seasoning, taco seasoning, chili seasoning, Fajita seasoning, Salad Supreme, onion soup mix, ranch dip mixture, etc.
  11. Ask for gravies, sauces, and salad dressings on the side.  You can control the amount that you put on your foods by doing that. Many restaurants spoon those liberally.
  12. Use a variety of suggestions to lower your sodium intake; however, try one suggestion at a time.  Do not try all of them simultaneously because you most likely will not like your food.

Related Articles

How I Lowered My Cholesterol Level by 16 Points in One Year, Part 1

How I Lowered My Cholesterol Level by 16 Points in One Year, Part 2

 

 

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Updated: October 29, 2017 — 12:12 pm

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