salt shaker
Diet & Nutrition

5 Ways to Use Less Salt

Salt often gets a bad rap, and in fact it can increase your blood pressure. But at the same time it’s essential. Here, from the experts at Harvard Medical School, are the basics of sodium consumption some strategies for getting your salt intake to a safe, healthy level:

Why We Need It. The sodium in salt helps transmit nerve impulses and contract muscle fibers. And working with potassium, it balances fluid levels in in the body. But, the Harvard experts say, don’t take this as a signal to consume salt recklessly. You need only a tiny amount of salt to do this, less than one-tenth of a teaspoon. The average American gets nearly 20 times that much.

Why Too Much is Bad. In general, the body can rid itself of excess sodium. But in some cases, too much sodium can cause the body to retain water. That increases the amount of fluid going through blood vesseIn some people, though, consuming extra sodium makes the body hold onto water. In turn that increases the amount of fluid flowing through blood vessels, which can lead to high blood pressure. This increases the amount of fluid flowing through blood vessels, which can increase blood pressure.

Where We Get It. Most of the salt that Americans consume comes from prepared and processed foods. The leading culprits include snack foods, sandwich meats, smoked and cured meat, canned juices, canned and dry soups, pizza and other fast foods, and many condiments, relishes, and sauces. And that’s just the beginning.

How to Cut Back On It.  Here, from Harvard, are five ways to start shaking the salt habit.

*Use flavor enhancers. Add zest to your favorite dishes with spices, dried and fresh herbs, roots (such as garlic and ginger), citrus, vinegars, and wine. From black pepper, cinnamon, and turmeric to fresh basil, chili peppers, and lemon juice, these flavor enhancers create excitement for the palate — and with less sodium.

*Go nuts for healthy fats in the kitchen. Using the right healthy fats — from roasted nuts and avocados to olive, canola, soybean, and other oils — can add a rich flavor to foods, minus the salt.

*Sear, sauté, and roast. Searing and sautéing foods in a pan builds flavor. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of many vegetables and the taste of fish and chicken. If you do steam or microwave food, perk up these dishes with a finishing drizzle of flavorful oil and a squeeze of citrus.

*Get your whole grains from sources other than bread. Even whole-grain bread, while a healthier choice than white, can contain considerable sodium, the Harvard experts say. And bread contains salt, not just for flavor but to ensure that the dough rises properly. You can skip that extra salt when you use whole grains outside of baking. Try a Mediterranean-inspired whole-grain salad with chopped vegetables, nuts, and legumes, perhaps a small amount of cheese, herbs and spices, and healthy oils and vinegar or citrus. For breakfast, cook up steel-cut oats, farro, or other intact whole grains with fresh fruit.