Auckland, March 13, 2022
Sodium is a mineral that occurs naturally in very small amounts in the food we eat.
However, the bulk of the sodium that we consume is added during the food processing and pre-packaging process or during food preparation and cooking.
Our body needs a small amount of sodium to control the balance of fluids and to maintain our blood volume and pressure. However, excessive intake of sodium has been found to increase the risk of developing hypertension, which causes heart disease, stroke and kidney ailments.
Flexible DASH Diet
The DASH Diet is a very flexible eating plan that was developed by The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute in the USA in 1997 to help people reduce blood pressure.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and this diet encourages eating foods that are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium, the nutrients that help control blood pressure, and avoiding foods that are high in sodium, saturated fat and added sugar.
The most important feature of the standard DASH diet is that sodium intake should be limited to 1500 mg-2300 mg per day (1/3 -1 teaspoon of table salt).
However, the sodium content in our food is not made up of only table salt and in this article.
Sodium is present in various processed foods and fast foods and hence we should explore the possible ways in which we can decrease sodium consumption.
The sodium that we consume comes from the salt (sodium chloride) that we add to our food for taste, as well as from the sodium that is added during industrial food processing for various purposes such as, for curing meat (sodium nitrite), for baking (sodium bicarbonate – baking soda), as a thickening agent (sodium alginate), as a flavour enhancer (monosodium glutamate – MSG) and as a preservative (sodium benzoate). All these contribute to the total amount of sodium content listed on the Nutrition Facts label of food products.
The following are some common foods that we might all be consuming regularly, unaware of their sodium content:
Bread and other baked goods
Sodium is used in commercial bread-making as it helps activate yeast as well as enhance the texture, volume and flavour of the bread and maintain its freshness.
Two slices of bread could contain between 250-450 mg of sodium depending on the type of bread and the brand. White bread usually contains more sodium than the wholemeal and multigrain varieties.
This is also the case with other baked products such as buns, rolls, bagels, tortillas etc.
Though the sodium content of these foods may not seem excessive, the amount of sodium consumed can significantly add up for people who eat several servings per day. Therefore, being aware of the sodium content of bread and baked products that we consume would certainly help us monitor our intake.
Sodium is added to canned vegetables to retain the freshness, texture and appearance of the food as well as a preservative to help extend the shelf life of the product. For instance, 100 g (1/4 can) of canned tomatoes could contain between 120-200 g sodium.
However, there are various canned vegetable products labelled ‘low-sodium/salt’ or ‘no added sodium/salt’ which contain considerably lesser amounts of sodium that we can use as alternatives. Draining and rinsing canned vegetables for a couple of minutes also helps reduce sodium content considerably. Cooking with fresh or frozen vegetables is another healthier alternative as these contain a very minimal amount of sodium.
Qualities of Cheese
Sodium, in the form of sodium phosphate, is used in commercial cheese production to prevent bacterial growth, keep it moist, improve texture and enhance the taste. Processed cheese and cheeses like Parmesan, Roquefort, Blue Cheese, Halloumi, Feta and Edam contain more sodium than natural cheeses, such as Swiss Cheese, Ricotta And Fresh Mozzarella.
For instance, 100g of Parmesan Cheese could contain between 750-1200 mg sodium depending on the brand whereas a similar quantity of mozzarella contains between 500- 550 mg sodium and ricotta contains between 150-200 mg.
There are numerous other foods and cooking ingredients such as sauces, salad dressings, marinades and commercially produced stock, ham, bacon and other cured meats and cold cuts, vegetable juices, olives, sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables, that could potentially contain high levels of sodium.
The best way forward is to read the food nutrition label on every product for the sodium content of one serving. Products labelled “low-salt,” or “no salt added” are generally low in sodium. Here is a food nutrition label is taken from a breakfast cereal box with tips on how to interpret the information with regards to sodium content.
Minimise Processed Food
Another way to cut back on sodium is to minimize processed and packaged foods as they contain unexpectedly high amounts of sodium and to avoid fast foods such as pizzas and burgers. Many of the ingredients in fast foods such as cheese, sauce, buns/pizza base, and processed meat, contain significant amounts of sodium and when they are combined in a dish, the total sodium load can be enormous. The sodium content of dishes from fast-food chains such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza and McDonald’s can be obtained from their nutritional information pages that are published online.
Consuming less salt daily is not as difficult as one would imagine. By using less salt in our cooking, we will slowly learn to savour the flavours of the various other ingredients that we use, and over time, as our taste buds adjust to the reduced salt in our food, we will stop missing the salt and start enjoying our new flavourful meals.
If you are suffering from any medical condition, if you are pregnant breastfeeding, or if you are already on medication or supplements, please consult a healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet.
Sandhya Govind is a qualified and trained Naturopath and runs the ‘Sandhya’s Naturopathy Clinic,’ an integrated Natural Medicine facility, which helps people rediscover optimal health, radiance and vitality naturally. Email: [email protected]; The above article should be read for general information purposes only and not taken as individual advice. Please always consult your GP or other authorised persons or agencies for personal advice. Indian Newslink and Sandhya Govind absolve themselves of all responsibility or liability in this connection.