Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My Grain of Salt on Salt...

Having been on a low-iodine diet for 10 days, I have had to cut my sodium intake. [Low-iodine does not mean NO-iodine or No-sodium: you just have to know if the sodium has iodine or not. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to know which type of sodium is used in processed food... so basically low-iodine means cutting processed food, including dairy products, condiments, bakery-made breads, etc... No FUN!].

The bad news is that 75% of sodium comes from processed food. Only 7% comes from the table salt (which is 60% sodium and 40% chloride) pinch you add to your broccoli or home-made soup!
The REALLY bad news is that adults should consume between 1,500 and 2,400 mg of sodium per day but actually eat about twice as much. The REALLY REALLY bad news is that children eat way too much sodium as well (some of them eat more than the adult recommended amount).
How do we get there? Here is a list of food with sodium data:
- a tablespoon of soy sauce (think sushi) provides 900-1000 mg of sodium!
-  3 oz of ham (lean, roasted) : 1020 mg
- 1.5 oz of processed cheese : 600 mg
- 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereals : 100 to 300 mg
- 1 slice of bread: 110 to 175 mg
- 0.5 cup of pasta/rice (cooked, unsalted) : 0 to 5 mg
- 1 cup of fresh/frozen vegetables (cooked, unsalted): 1 to 70 mg

I went into my pantry, freezer and fridge to look at the sodium content of the food we eat on a regular basis...  What a shock! My husband's favorite Tarte d'Alsace (with ham, cream, bacon) has 630 mg per serving (but he eats the WHOLE tarte!!); the breaded fish fillets have about 38% of daily sodium intake; the curry paste I use or the dumplings are loaded with salt... 

The good news is that salt is an acquired taste, i.e. you can STEADILY get used to eating less salty!  The second good news is that children' salt intake is correlated by the salty taste preference assessed by their parents, i.e. if we start eating less salty food, our children will eat less salt as well... 
Just to confirm my "eating by example theory", I have done that with nuts, which I (and my children)  love to eat! Because of my diet, we cut on the salty nuts and purchased the toasted unsalted ones.. and you know what? It's not that bad! Granted, pistachios do taste better salted... but  pecans, cashews, and almonds are actually good without salt...and at this stage, my children are happy eating them unsalted! So I'll keep serving them unsalted nuts when possible and yes, we'll keep the salted pistachios!
It's not New Year but I think it's worth the effort to take on a few good resolutions towards decreasing (not banning) sodium in our (children's) diet. Here is what I suggest: 
  • Read the label and don't buy food that should not contain salt in the first place like jam, apple sauce, fruit juices, "naturally flavored" water... or food that have way too much sodium per serving.
  • Choose the "low sodium" option when available: it's better to add salt to a "low sodium" soup than to eat the "full sodium" one. "Low sodium" have 140mg or less sodium per serving.
  • Limit salt-loaded processed food and as usual balance over the course of one week: if you have sushi with soy sauce for lunch, then it's home-made soup or lentils with fresh veggies for dinner, not frozen pizza!
  • Dilute: purchase non-salty items (like my pecans) and mix them with salty ones (like my pistachios) so that you still get some salty taste but you are not reaching the upper limits. Don't add salt in the water for the pasta if you are going to serve them with pesto or tomato sauce from a jar or if your spouse is adding salt without tasting the food first!
  • Last but not least: cook from scratch! There is nothing better to limit the sodium intake than cooking from scratch. You don't have to do it everyday if you don't have the time... but the more, the better... and considering the risks associated with eating too much salt, I think it's really worth it.
Come back to this blog for good, healthy recipes...!



  1. What about pepper, any restriction?

  2. Great article. I learned a lot and I'm very glad that we cook from scratch practically all the time, and eat very little processed foods.