Where Do We Get Our Salt?

So after reading my post about why too much salt in your diet can cause an elevated blood pressure, today we are going to look at the hidden ways we get salt in our diets without even knowing it. (If you missed my post on the effects salt has on bp, find it here.)

Most people think the key to limiting dietary salt intake is to limit the use of the salt shaker.

But alas, as with the Transformers, in this situation there is much more than meets the eye.

The amount of salt that we add to the food that we eat is minimal for most, and even insignificant for some. How come then, does the average American consume close to 5,000 mg every day, which is about twice the recommended amount?

Simple answer, processed food. When food is processed, lots of changes take place that effect the quality of the food. An often overlooked result of the processing is the amount of salt added to help preserve the food and prevent it from spoiling. This excess salt, which often is barely even tasted, makes up the majority of salt that we consume in our modern diet.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look into this a little more closely. Stouffer’s makes a frozen lasagna that comes completely pre-made, all you have to do is pop it in the oven and you’ve got a seemingly healthy, almost home-cooked meal.

But when you look at the nutrition facts, there are a couple of numbers that are a bit startling, to say the least. The amount of fat found in a single serving of the frozen lasagna contains 20% of the daily recommended fat content. While this is a little scary, it is not completely unreasonable since there is so much cheese and ground beef in the lasagna. The amount of salt (sodium) however, is almost unbelievable. Stouffer’s lasagna has 671 mg of sodium in a single serving, which is an astounding 28% of your recommended daily amount!

The reason this is a troubling situation is simple, when you eat a piece of lasagna, it doesn’t taste salty. So without even knowing it, you are getting a whole lot of salt in one meal eating something that doesn’t even taste salty.

Stealth salt can attack you from many fronts, but did you know it can attack you even when you are making a viable attempt at eating healthy? Case in point, canned green beans from Green Giant.

Now let me be clear, I’m not campaigning against green beans or any kind of canned vegetables. While canned varieties aren’t perfect, you can make a lot worse food choices than canned green beans. What this example illustrates, however, is the importance of reading labels and acknowledging that processed food has some sneaky ingredients, and excess sodium is chief among them.

So while a can of green beans has plenty of health benefits, be aware that a serving has 16% of the daily amount of salt in it, which is 380 mg. A number like that is certainly too big to ignore.

Then there is the king of hidden fat and salt when it comes to processed foods: fast food establishments. McDonald’s food is so processed that you can set a happy meal on the counter at room temperature for months, and it will not break down. If that doesn’t scare you a little bit, take a look at some of their numbers. A McDonald’s double cheeseburger has 1150 mg of salt. A Big Mac has 1040 mg. 5 chicken strips have 1240 mg of salt. All of these items, which are some of the most ordered foods on the menu, have almost half of your daily salt content.

And you still haven’t eaten any French fries.

A large order of French fries only has about 350 mg of salt, a relatively small amount since the fries actually taste salty. However, since most people add more salt to their fries when we get them, the actual amount of sodium in a McDonald’s meal is likely between 1500-2000 mg, which is an admirable daily maximum, not a singular meal total.

Salt is great. It makes our foods taste better, and our bodies need it to function properly. However, like many things, too much of a good thing isn’t good.

Now that you know why too much salt elevates your blood pressure, and where most of the salt we eat comes from, hopefully you will start to make some changes to your diet to limit the salt you consume. Stay tuned for my next post, where we will look at some ways to make great tasting foods at home without using too much salt.


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