Sodium is an essential part of our diet, helping support normal blood pressure, regulating fluids, maintaining electrolyte levels and supporting nerve and muscle development. It’s found in essential salts present in most food groups, including meats, vegetables and grains. Our bodies are naturally designed to make use of those salts at these small trace levels, levels which can easily be satisfied in a normal, unsalted meal.
Saltiness is also one of the distinct tastes we as humans experience, alongside sweetness (from sugar), sourness, savory and bitterness. Depending on the individual person, these tastes all illicit pleasurable impressions, particularly sweetness and saltiness, which our taste buds like to experience again and again. This is why many people continue to salt already salty meals, to enhance the flavour.
However, too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn leads to heart and kidney diseases, cardiovascular diseases or strokes. Unfortunately, sodium, with its addictive taste, is added artificially to a lot of foods to increase their appeal. Present in high volumes in processed foods, such as meats, fish, canned foods, soy sauce, cheeses, butter and even bread, additional salt is often recommended in cooking, especially when the sodium content of certain products is unknown. Reducing our sodium intake therefore takes a little vigilance.
So how much sodium should I be having?
Generally, you’ll need less that 5g a day of sodium/salt, or 2000mg, equivalent to less than a teaspoon of salt. A healthy recommendation is 2g or around 700mg. Naturally, most foods contain very little — per 100g of food, raw meat and fish contains 30-150mg, which fruits and vegetables have less than 50g.
However, the average restaurant meal contains around 3,510mg of sodium per serving!* Which means, in a single meal, a lot of people are eating more sodium than is recommended throughout the entire day.
How to reduce your sodium
While it may seem that the food industry has a monopoly on how much sodium you intake, there are ways around this salty problem. Companies are unlikely to promote their high-sodium levels, but you can always try the following;
- Look for unsalted snack items. Check for unsalted nuts and chips, to avoid raising your salt intake between meals.
- Wash away the salt. Canned food uses more salt than fresh, so try drain your food beforehand.
- Eat unprocessed and whole foods, like vegetables and fruits.
- Use herbs, spices garlic and citrus. There are plenty of other ways to enhance your dishes with flavour.
- Go for lean meats or frozen chicken. Processed meats and smoked food have a lot of salt, especially salami.
- Takeaways are salty. Try cut down your takeaways, especially fast food.
- Ask for low-sodium dishes when out or for less salt. If unsure, you can always request your meal to be healthier.
- Get condiments on the side, so you can add only as much as you need.
- Counter with potassium. Potatoes, bananas, beans, milk, yogurt and cantaloupes can all help lower your blood pressure.
- Cook at home. When you prepare the dishes, and with a fresh lot of ingredients, you can be more sure of only adding natural salts.
Cooking low sodium and high flavour
Just because you’re cutting down on salt doesn’t mean you have to take the flavour out of every meal. There are plenty of foods you can cook which need little added texture.
One particularly versatile ingredient is bone broth, which can be used for more than the name suggests. Bone broth is especially pleasing in soups and Vietnamese dishes, such as pho, a-mid 20th century noodle dish developed by refugees following the Vietnam War. In it, meat, bones, vegetables and noodles or rice are boiled to create a naturally nutritious broth, enjoyed by many across the world today.
Bone broth can also be used to enhance just about any dish, from enchiladas to pies, risottos, ramens, chili con quesoes, couscous, salads and even drinks, such as coffee, cocktails and smoothies. Aside from providing a base or sauce for many dishes, it may also help digestion, fight inflammation, improve bone strength and even aid sleep!
Low-sodium bone broth
At The Little Bone Broth Company, we like to keep our broth as natural as we can. We select only free-range and grass-fed animals, which we get delivered fresh, along with our fresh vegetables. We boil our broths for three days, simmering to draw all the nutrients from meat and bone, before we season, skim the fat from the meat and transfer our broth to pouches. At no point do we add any extra salt.
Stocking your pantry with bone broth
If you want to get hold of a packet (or three) of our bone broth, you can find us at all the major supermarkets or at our online store. Or if you want any recipe ideas, head to our Facebook page, where we post new meals regularly.
*This study was conducted in America, but includes a lot of food groups we typically eat here in New Zealand, such as pizza, chips and fast food items.
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