As a routine, we may not be even aware of how much salt we are actually consuming. This is because it is not just the visible salt that we add in our diets, but there are a number of ‘hidden sources’, which may actually make one consume far in excess than actually our body requires, which is no more than 3-5 grams per day. Ideally it is the sodium component of the salt (sodium chloride), which matters. This is present in a number of foods around us including medicines.
Our body does require some sodium since it helps to maintain the right balance of fluids, helps transmit nerve impulses and influences the contraction and relaxation of our muscles. But what is required is the right balance of sodium in our diet. This is maintained by the kidneys by holding on to it when our body stores are low, or excreting it out when there is excess of it. But with a prolonged period of excess intake of sodium the kidneys may one day fail to maintain this balance, resulting in increased blood volume by holding on to fluids. This can lead to heart problems, renal and liver disorders and hypertension etc.
The sodium requirement also varies with age. With increasing age it is advisable to reduce the sodium content by reducing the total salt intake per day. This does not imply table or cooking salt alone, but a number of foods which may be having ‘hidden sodium’, in them which actually may add up to much more than just salt consumed as such.
Some of the main sources of sodium, commonly consumed on day to day basis are:
Processed or Ready to Cook Foods: bread, biscuits and all other bakery items (which require soda bicarbonate or baking soda), pasta, noodles, pizzas, burgers, cheese etc.
Preserved Foods: Pickles, jams, marmalade, chutneys, spreads, ketchup, sauces, chutney, papad, vadi, all tinned foods, breakfast cereals like cornflakes etc.
Natural Sources: Dairy products, meat, chicken, eggs, fish, legumes.
Medicines; Certain medicines may be sodium based (read label or check with your physician)
Some tips for cutting down sodium in your daily dietary intake are:
- Eat more of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Limit use of sauces, dips, salad dressings, pickles and chutneys etc.
- Use dried herbs and spices for flavoring
- Black or rock salt as is commonly referred to, has the same amount of sodium as the normal salt.
- Read labels carefully on all medicines and foods while shopping for groceries. Look for ingredients like baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, sodium citrate, sodium nitrite.
- Avoid table salt or salt dispensers.
Finally, your taste for salt can be acquired with sustained elimination of excess salt from one’s diet, since the taste buds get adjusted to enable you to enjoy your low sodium diet.