Most Americans consume way too much salt. Salt, or more specifically sodium (which is 40% of salt), is necessary for our body to function, but it’s easy to get too much.
Too much salt may contribute to high blood pressure, heart failure and/or kidney disease. High levels of sodium can also cause your body to retain water resulting in short-term weight gain. Salt also increases thirst, hence the reason that you are searching for something to drink an hour or two after having a salty meal, snack or even Chinese food.
Blaming salt for weight gain though isn’t entirely accurate. The reason salt is associated with weight gain is because of the food rather than the actual salt content. Salt is found in many foods that are high in calories and low nutrients such as snacks like potato chips, pre-packaged processed food and fast food.
It isn’t the salt that causes weight gain, but the food itself. Seventy-five percent of the salt Americans consume comes from salt added to pre-made food by manufacturers or cooks at restaurants. Only 5-10% comes from the salt we add when we’re salting at the table or when we cook food.
Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 2,300mgs of sodium per day (about 1 teaspoon of salt). That number is reduced to 1,500mgs for persons that have high blood pressure, are African-American or are older. Most Americans consume 50% more than the recommendation or around 3,400mgs.
So what can you do to get your salt intake under control? The following are a few suggestions:
- Track your sodium intake. If you don’t know how much you are consuming then you don’t know if you need to cut back. Tracking intake using an online product such as MyFitnessPal (online free app) will help.
- Read food labels. Sodium is variable in products, but also by brand so compare and purchase wisely.
- Cook more at home and use fresh food instead of pre-packaged or ready-seasoned foods from the grocer.
- Avoid using seasonings and spices with added salt for example garlic salt. Use garlic powder instead.
- Try to slowly decrease your intake of salt. It usually takes 6-8 weeks to get used to a low-sodium diet.
Shake Your Booty, the 70’s hit by KC and the Sunshine Band, is a popular tune to keep in mind the next time you reach to shake the salt shaker get up and shake your booty instead – you will be cutting back on sodium and burning calories.
By Molly McBrayer, clinical manager, Roper St. Francis Bariatrics & Metabolic Services