No one can think of a diet with NO salt. The reason is simple: salt is what adds taste and flavour to food. However, excess salt can lead to more trouble as it can not only cause dehydration but also increase blood pressure.
What is the ideal amount of salt one needs every day?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends maximum dietary salt intake of 5 gm/day for healthy adults. One teaspoon contains about 6 gm salt which has approximately 2,400 mg sodium. Hence, you need to use slightly less than a teaspoon of salt in your diet on a daily basis.
If you are suffering from high blood pressure, the DASH diet advocates a low sodium diet thereby restricting your daily intake of sodium to 1500 mg, which is approximately 3.5 gm of salt (about half a teaspoon).
According to a 2011 study in the journal Circulation, cutting down on sodium to less than 1,500 mg per day can prevent up to 120,000 events of coronary heart disease; 66,000 strokes and around 99,000 heart attacks with overall deaths of 92,000 per year.
But the salt consumption in India is far above the limit. Here are some tips that can help you to follow a low sodium diet and reduce salt in food:
1. Add spices to your food. Stop reaching for the salt shaker in your kitchen cabinet when cooking food. Instead, replace it with spices and herbs to lighten up your taste buds with something fresh and unique. Replacing salt with spices such as garlic, ginger, black pepper, hing and turmeric not only adds taste and flavour to food but also makes it healthy.
So the next time your eat a bowl of salad, add a pinch of black pepper powder instead of salt. You can also put a teaspoon of ginger and garlic paste with a pinch of salt to curries to enhance the taste and lower your sodium intake.
2. Reduce salt in your dish or just skip it completely. Believe it or not, the taste for salt is an acquired one and hence, it might be difficult to cut down on salt all of a sudden. This is the reason, you might need to train your taste buds to be satisfied with low levels of salt, especially when you are on a low sodium diet. This can happen gradually. So when you are washing vegetables or making paste avoid using salt and only add salt when cooking these vegetables. The same applies when boiling vegetables or sauteing veggies, thus significantly lowering the addition of salt in your food.
3. Avoid hidden sources of salt. Given our hectic schedule and lack of time, we often look for quick and ready-to-eat options, be it on our way to work or at home. This is the reason, we tend to consume processed foods. Although most of us are aware of the high salt content in food, there are several hidden sources of salt which most of us are not aware of.
These include bread, cereals, noodles, bakery products, ready to eat packets, pickles, canned foods, chips, cheeses, sauces etc. Hence, avoiding these foods can help you to limit sodium intake on an everyday basis, explains Dr. Bhupendra Gandhi, Senior Nephrologist, Founder & Trustee, Amar Gandhi Foundation, Mumbai.
4. Check foods labels for ‘sodium content’. Most of us might be cutting down on table salt when cooking food but still exceed the ideal range of salt consumption. One reason could be that we are eating packaged foods which are loaded with salt.
Hence, it is important to always check the nutrition information on the pack and look for sodium content especially in foods like salted butter, chips, salted nuts and other foods with added salt. A quick glance at the nutrition label can help you to figure out how many milligrams of sodium you are eating in a day.
So the next time you go for grocery shopping, do look at food labels for sodium content the way you look for ‘fat’ content.
5. Eat flavour-rich foods: Whole grains are not only nutritious but also have a unique flavour. Red rice is tastier than refined white rice which gets its flavour from salt. Instead of using maida (refined all-purpose flour) you can make parathas, rotis or naan from wheat flour, bajra or nachni. Also, avoid adding salt to the flour. This way you can cut down on the amount of salt you consume in a day, stick toy our low sodium diet and also enjoy the true flavour of these foods.
You can also add lemon juice, olive oil or nuts such as peanuts to salads to improve the flavour. But remember to use boiled or roasted peanuts (not the salted ones) to reduce salt in food.
Follow these simple tips to cut down on your sodium intake and lower your risk of cardiovascular complications.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, Consultant Pharmacologist)
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sodium Reduction Toolkit: A Global Opportunity to Reduce Population-Level Sodium Intake.
2. Johnson C, Praveen D, Pope A, Raj TS, Pillai RN, Land MA, Neal B. Mean population salt consumption in India: a systematic review. J Hypertens. 2017 Jan;35(1):3-9.
3. Appel LJ, Frohlich ED, Hall JE, et al. The importance of population-wide sodium reduction as a means to prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke: a call to action from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2011 Mar 15;123(10):1138-43.
4. Challa HJ, Uppaluri KR. DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) StatPearls Publishing; 2018 Jan.