Did you know that you have five different taste receptors?
They are salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami. Those first two are the ones that can cause health concerns. Salty and sweet cravings can be easily triggered. For example, when you eat foods with added salt, you will crave more salt.
Sodium is a mineral that is found in many types of food, but most often in salt as sodium chloride. A low sodium diet has numerous health benefits. The American Heart Association recommends that you consume only 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Foods with added sodium will often be:
- Fast food
- Convenience or packaged foods
- Frozen meals
- Snack foods
Salt is often added to food as a preservative, adding flavor and to keeping the foods its in moist. Foods with added salt put you at a higher risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.
20 Health Benefits of a Low Sodium Diet
A diet high in sodium has been connected to an increased risk for high blood pressure. High blood pressure is when the pressure of your blood against the walls of your arteries is too strong. This can lead to serious health problems. Reducing the amount of sodium in your diet can:
- Lower your blood pressure. The amount of fluid in your blood decreases, which leads to lower blood pressure.
- Reduce your risk of a heart attack. By managing high blood pressure, you relieve the pressure and potential damage to your heart. This reduces your chance of a heart attack.
- Lower your LDL cholesterol. High blood pressure is one of the factors in metabolic syndrome. This includes having a high cholesterol reading. Packaged foods high in sodium tend to be high in cholesterol as well.
- Prevent congestive heart failure. When your heart must pump harder to push your blood through your blood vessels it can lead to heart failure.
- Decrease your risk of kidney damage. Your blood vessels in the kidneys can become weakened and narrowed. This can cause kidney failure.
- Prevent your chance of stroke. The decreased blood flow to your brain can put you at an increased risk for a stroke.
- Lessen the chance of a brain aneurysm. When your blood pressure remains high it can cause the blood vessels in your brain to weaken. You can experience a brain bleed with life-threatening consequences.
- Protect your vision. Who knew you could really protect your vision with carrots? High blood pressure in the vessels in your eyes can lead to torn blood vessels and vision loss so incorporate more natural, low-salt foods like carrots.
- Reduce your risk of diabetes. A diet that is high in packaged or convenience foods will increase your chance of having diabetes.
- Improve your memory. Your ability to think and to build memories are related to the health of your brain. High blood pressure can affect the blood flow to your brain.
- Lower your risk of dementia. Vascular dementia is a type of dementia-related to slowed blood flow to the brain.
- Reduce the hardening and thickening of your arteries. Continual high blood pressure will cause the walls of your arteries to become thicker and harder. It is more difficult for blood to move through stiff vessels.
- Reduce bloating and swelling. A diet high in sodium causes your body to retain fluid. You will notice reduced bloating and swelling when you cut back on your sodium intake.
- Reduce the amount you drink. Salty foods will make you thirsty and dehydrated. Often, we will reach for high-calorie drinks like soda or alcohol to quench that thirst. By reducing the amount of sodium, you will have less of an urge for these unhealthy drinks.
- Curb your salt cravings. Your taste buds adapt to the increased level of saltiness. When you reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, you can decrease your salt cravings.
- Decrease your risk for headaches. A meal high in salt can cause the blood vessels in your brain to expand. These pounding blood vessels can be the culprit behind your latest painful headache.
- Build stronger bones. Salt controls how much calcium is pulled out of your bones. Calcium is important for strong bones and to prevent osteoporosis. A high sodium diet can lead to weak bones with the loss of calcium.
- Reduce the chance of kidney stones. When calcium is leached out of your body into your urine you are at a higher risk for kidney stones. A high salt diet increases the amount of calcium your kidneys must process.
- Allow your heart to pump effectively. When your heart works overly hard to pump blood, the heart muscle can become thick. High blood pressure caused by high sodium puts stress on your heart walls. It can be like squeezing a full water balloon. It takes more force the fuller the balloon is. The heart can pump more easily when your blood pressure is at an ideal level.
- Lower your risk of stomach cancer. There is a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. This bacteria can live in your stomach. The H. pylori bacteria thrives on high salt content. The bacteria is a major risk factor for stomach cancer.
How to Stop Craving Salty Snacks
Sodium is a mineral necessary for our health, but an excess amount of added sodium is harmful.
A major factor in being able to stop yourself from craving salty snacks is to gradually decrease the added salt in your diet. Salt will block your other taste receptors so when you cut back on salt, you will eventually be able to enjoy the more subtle flavors. It takes about two weeks to retrain your taste buds, so be patient.
The best way to reduce your sodium intake is to start with whole unprocessed foods. Think:
Try to imagine what foods you would be able to buy directly from a farmer. These foods in their natural states will contain no added sodium.
6 Ways to Reduce Salt in What You Eat
The quickest way to reduce your sodium is to eat more food in its natural state. That doesn’t mean you have to give up all flavor, sauces, dressings or eating out. These ideas can help you cut back on salt while increasing the yum factor.
- Boost the flavor. Up the flavor profile of naturally healthy food by adding herbs, spices and a splash of healthy oil or fat. You can add condiments like:
- Flavored vinegars
- Infused olive oil
- Keep a well-stocked spice cupboard. Spices are the chef’s secret ingredients. Salt is a common food to add to increase flavor but spices offer more pizazz. For example, when preparing eggs for breakfast don’t finish with a sprinkle of salt. Spices and herbs can add a satisfying taste that makes you forget about salt. Reach for a new flavor by adding:
- Smoked paprika
- Fresh or dry dill
- Chopped basil
- An Italian spice blend
- Don’t guess at added salt. The recommended amount of salt in a day is less than one teaspoon. You might be surprised by how much that is. When you are cooking, reach for the measuring spoon instead of eyeballing the salt. Try to use half the amount or less of the salt the recipe calls for. When you are adding salt at the table, don’t sprinkle out of the shaker. You can try these methods:
- Place a ¼ teaspoon of salt in your hand. Observe how much space that amount of salt takes. Take a pinch of salt and add it to your food.
- Use a container and very small scoop for your salt, or sprinkle the salt on your spoon first. Seeing the amount of salt can help you be aware of how much you are using.
- Ask for less salt. When you are eating out you can ask for your dish to be made without extra salt. Another option is to ask for the sauce or dressing to be served on the side. You might find that you don’t eat as much of the dressing when you dress your own salad. Sauces and dressing tend to be where salt is added.
- Stay hydrated. Also remember to keep your body well hydrated. You may crave salt after working out, an illness or surgery. Try a glass of cool water with lime or lemon and a natural electrolyte replacement. You may find that when you quench your thirst, you no longer want the extra salt.
- Plan your meals in advance. Processed and convenience foods tend to be high in salt. Meal planning is an ideal way to add foods into your diet that are lower in sodium.
20 Satisfying, Low Salt Snacks
These 20 healthy and satisfying low salt snacks will help you next time you are craving a salty, crunchy mini-meal. Try replacing:
- Salted peanuts with unsalted almonds
- A fruit and nut bar with apples and nut butter (check the label for no added salt)
- Flavored popcorn with unsalted popcorn flavored with dill, chili powder or cinnamon
- Potato chips with carrot sticks dipped in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and thyme
- Pork rinds with snow peas
- An ice cream sandwich with banana and almond butter
- A popsicle with orange slices
- Ice cream with yogurt mixed with nuts and berries
- Commercial trail mix with homemade trail mix (mix unsalted almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and cinnamon)
- Tortilla chips and salsa with cucumber slices and salsa (check the label for low sodium)
- Crackers and dip with celery sticks and hummus
- Pepperoni sticks with low sodium deli meat, wrapped with a lettuce leaf
- A bag of goldfish crackers with low sodium tuna scooped up with cucumber slices
- A cup of pudding with a homemade fruit salad (apples, oranges, grapes, melon)
- A milkshake with a fresh smoothie made with milk (or milk alternative), greens, ½ cup of fruit and a splash of vanilla extract
- Pretzels with pear slices and low sodium cheese
- An oatmeal cookie with a bowl of oatmeal served with fresh berries
- A can of soda with a cup of sparkling water and lime juice
- A donut with fresh watermelon slices
- An order of French fries with veggies such as cherry tomatoes, celery, carrots or cucumbers dipped in a low sodium ranch dressing
Give your body nutritious and delicious options for snacks and meals. By loading up on whole fruits, vegetables, nuts and meat you are meeting your body’s need for fuel.