Being aware of the amount of salt added during cooking or at the table and the salt and sodium content particularly in processed and ready to eat foods is an important step in reducing sodium intake.
There are many types of salts that are used in cooking. Common varieties include sea salt, iodised or table salt, rock salt (sendha namak) and black salt each differing from the other in taste, colour and texture. It must be remembered that there is not much of a difference in the sodium content of the different salts and rock salt and sea salt are just as high in sodium chloride as table salt and are bad for health when used in excess regardless of their healthy image. It is not the type of salt that is used in cooking which is of concern. It is the overall sodium content of the diet both from added salt or hidden sodium which are bigger concerns.
Since the taste for salt is acquired, one can easily learn to enjoy the taste of foods with less salt. Gradually decrease the amount of salt you use in cooking so that your taste buds adjust to less salt. Remember it may be difficult initially, but as you use less salt, your preference for salt diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the natural taste of the food itself.
Be a smart shopper. Taste alone may not tell which foods are high in salt. Processed foods like breakfast cereals that don’t taste salty often have high sodium levels. By reading food labels carefully one can learn about the sodium and salt content of processed and ready to eat foods. Look for the terms salt, brine, monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, baking powder, sodium benzoate, sodium citrate, sodium nitrate or nitrite (salt petre), sodium pyrophosphate, sodium erythrobate, disodium phosphate and sodium saccharine, or sodium alginate – they all contribute to the total sodium content of processed foods.
Today many processed foods are available as low sodium versions (products containing 140 mg or less of sodium per serving) or unsalted versions where no salt is added during processing of a food. Many of these so called unsalted foods may still be high in sodium from the sodium-based food additives that are added to the product. Hence one needs to check the sodium content per serving to actually determine if a product fulfils its low sodium claim.
Focus on cooking with fresh ingredients. Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium and so is fresh meat. Make your own soups from fresh ingredients instead of relying on packaged soups. Cooking with fresh unprocessed ingredients allows you to control the amount of salt you decide to add to your meals – remember less the better.
Here are other ways to reduce the salt and sodium intake from the diet:
Use fresh or dried herbs, spices, zest from citrus fruit or fruit juices to enhance the flavour of your meals. Season salads or raitas or cut fruit with chaat masala.
Keep the salt shaker away from the dining table to avoid sprinkling salt over your food while eating.
Steam or microwave vegetables to preserve their natural flavours.
Cut back on chips, wafers, nachos, salted nuts, salted biscuits, namkeens, pickles, papads, sauces, dips, ketchup, soya sauce, cheese, olives, salted fish, instant noodles, instant pastas, frozen dinners, pizza, cold meats such as ham, bacon, salami, sausages, packaged mixes, soup powders and salad dressings as they are high in salt and sodium.
When using canned foods, thoroughly drain out the brine.
Use low sodium salt wisely: Low sodium salt contains a combination of sodium and potassium chloride. Potassium chloride tastes like sodium chloride, but it has a bitter aftertaste when heated so it is not recommended for cooking. Low sodium salts are good for people suffering from high blood pressure, however they must be used under the guidance of a doctor because extra potassium can be dangerous for people who have trouble eliminating excess or who are taking medications that can increase potassium levels in the bloodstream. This includes people with diabetes or kidney disease, those who have blocked urine flow or those taking a potassium-sparing diuretic, an ACE inhibitor or an angiotensin-receptor blocker.
Eat potassium rich foods such as bananas, dates, muskmelon, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and tender coconut water as potassium helps reduce some of sodium’s harmful effects on blood pressure.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 18 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)