Learn to Tweak How You Cook When Sodium Is a Concern
Sodium intake is something that we should all be mindful of, but it's of particular concern for select individuals for whom extra salt—the most common form of sodium—can worsen their health problems. Laying off the salt shaker is one way to help your cause, as is being choosy about the dine-out options you make.
But it's also important to think about your overall daily sodium intake when it comes to selecting—and preparing—the recipes you make at home.
Sodium Intake Guidelines
First thing's first—just how much sodium should you be consuming? Here are the current USDA recommendations for daily sodium intake:
- Maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium for healthy individuals age 50 and younger (about a teaspoon of salt)
- No more than 1,500 mg of sodium for people over age 50, African-Americans and those with high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes (about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt)
Sodium in Recipes: What to Consider
When minding your sodium intake, it's important to think of how a recipe will fit into your overall food consumption for the day. What else have you already eaten? What's on the menu for later that day? What do you usually snack on? Remember that it's not just the obviously salty foods that you need to take note of, such as pretzels and soy sauce. Salt is often hiding in foods that may not be on your sodium radar, like cereals and breads.
Look for recipes that come with nutritional facts, and be sure to do some quick number crunching to determine if the meal will actually end up accounting for more of your daily salt budget than you had hoped.
Be mindful of the recipe's serving size as you give it the once-over. How many servings will you likely eat in a sitting? If more than one, you need to take that into account as well—and multiply the number of sodium milligrams listed accordingly.
A dish may sound tasty, but if you're stuck eating lettuce for the rest of the day because of it, you should make a concerted effort to reduce the amount of salt it provides or pass on it all together.
Reducing Sodium in Recipes
Sodium in recipes comes both from the salt content of its ingredients and the inclusion of salt itself as an ingredient.
If a recipe you would like to prepare has too much sodium for your comfort, or if you're looking to eliminate as much sodium from your diet as possible regardless, consider these tips. Oftentimes, these seemingly small changes can make the world of difference.
- If salt is listed as an ingredient in the recipe, try using half the recommended amount—or eliminating it all together and salting to taste once the food is prepared. (Not advisable for baking, where altering the amount of salt may impact the cooking process.)
- When boiling foods, like pasta or rice, pass on adding salt to the water.
- Opt for low-sodium or no-salt-added canned foods (like beans or vegetables). Rinse canned foods with water before cooking, which can help wash away any added sodium.
- Choose all fresh ingredients! For example, crush your own tomatoes if you have the produce and time available. (Most will say they taste better than the canned varieties anyway.)
- Experiment with spices to add flavor to your food—you may often find that your dishes are more satisfying than when you reach for the table staple in question.