What is sodium? Should you care about it? Sodium is a part of what we call “salt”. You need sodium if your diet because it is a very important part of many different bodily functions, including fluid balance, and can be found almost everywhere if your body.
However if you have too much sodium, you may hold on to more fluid essentially leaving your organs to work harder to get rid of it and the water it holds onto. Daily requirements for sodium may vary but if you are at risk for hypertension (high blood pressure) or heart disease, it may be helpful to limit the sodium in your food.
Sodium is a preservative, so many processed foods need sodium to prevent them from spoiling. For this reason, it has become a necessity to our food system and hence an essential part of many cuisines and cooking styles. Keeping that in mind, there are some easy switches you can make in your daily food choices to decrease your daily sodium intake.
The key to limiting your sodium intake is finding the other flavors your like. Do you like spicy? Tart? Herbal? Salt is not the only flavor in our food.
Here are 4 easy changes you can make to decrease your sodium intake while maintaining flavor:
Switch your cheese to Fresh mozzarella or Swiss. They are made with significantly less salt than all other cheeses.
Throw away “the salt shaker” at the dinner table. Replace salt with spices, herbs, and lemon or lime.
Make your own salad dressing with vinegar and oil. Vinegar is naturally low in salt. Many bottled dressings add excess sodium.
Eat 1 more fresh vegetable or fruit per day. They are naturally low in sodium and contain potassium which balances out fluid in our bodies.
Lastly, remember if you are starting to decrease your sodium intake, your taste buds may take at least 2 weeks to adjust to a lower a salt diet. We have taste receptors that tell us how much salt we are getting. Giving yourself time to adjust to and seek out other flavors in our diet may be helpful in limiting salt cravings.
By Mindy Campbell, RD
Mindy is a registered dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She specializes in heart health. If you would like to discuss this topic, other heart health related topics: heart healthy fats, lifestyle changes for heart health, etc. she is available for counseling using the technique of motivational interviewing to assist you in making sustainable changes.