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Music: “Salt” from I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate by The Vagabonds. Released: 1999.
“Salt of the earth“, “he’s not worth his salt“, “old salt“, “take it with a grain of salt“. Salt is ubiquitous and ever-present. We can’t live without it, but frequently, we cannot live with it either, if we consume too much. How much is too much? Well, over the years, the medical community has continually revised estimates about what represents a “healthy” daily dose. It appears that for the average adult, about 500 mg is needed daily for the body to maintain some sort of saline equilibrium. More than that is often unnecessary and often harmful.
The American Heart Association’s current recommendations are 1,500 mg daily, but some studies show that the average American adult consumes as much as 3,400 mg daily! 2,500 mg daily used to be the recommendation, but that seems to fluctuate depending on which source you consult for statistics. According to Time Magazine, a study conducted in 2011 – 2012 suggested that the average daily sodium intake among US adults was an incredible 3,592 mg per day!, most of which comes from pre-packaged meals and processed foods.
If you think that is bad, “The Low Salt Diet and Recipe Book” (1982) indicates that the recommended adult diet should average 5,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium daily, which amounts to 8 teaspoons, from all sources. This, coming from book entitled “The Low Salt Diet?”
So, why is there salt, in most cases a lot, in just about every processed food we consume? Michael Moss, author of “Salt, Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” suggests that sugar and fat in foods are indicators of high fat content, which our ancestors probably needed for survival, but since salt or sodium is necessary only in small amounts, he wonders why we love it so much. It may be because it tastes good. As a result, knowing our human foibles, food manufacturers have taken advantage of our affinity for salt and keep on adding it to processed foods at an alarming rate. It wasn’t until 1991 that the food labeling we see today came into being. Before that, you just took your chances and ingested sodium blindly.
Salt was used as a preservative historically, but that is scarcely the reason why today, a pressurized, sterilized can of green beans needs to have sodium injected into the mix. In fact, most salt/sodium in canned foods is supposedly used to enhance texture and flavor, but not to act as a preservative. Lower sodium and even no-sodium processed foods do exist, but as I have found out recently, they are not easy to find and it requires a fair amount of time and travel and a magnifying glass to do so! Take a look at some of these food labels from items in my pantry:
As I indicated in “The Saga of Salt Suppression“, Part I, due to my spouse’s recent issues, a low sodium diet was imperative (1,500 mg or even less if possible), along with fluid restrictions of 1,500 cc’s daily. My 75 or so salts from around the world are currently gathering dust in a cupboard, reluctantly relinquished for the benefit of the health of my significant other. It is alarming to realize that in a mere teaspoon of salt there lurks 2,325 mg of sodium, much more than the recommended 1,500 mg and right up there with the total sodium ration for those who prefer to maximize their salt intake at 2,500 mg daily, FROM ALL SOURCES!
When we started on the sodium restricted diet, I looked through the comestibles in my pantry and in the fridge. I was stunned to find out that a lowly 7 inch flour tortilla (a staple in the Southwest, and one that my husband frequently enjoys), has 460 mg of sodium! Three tortillas for him and that would be his entire sodium limit for the day. One of his favourite (ex-favourite) Saturday lunches was a can of pork and beans with added ketchup, and a hot dog wrapped up in a flour tortilla. Read: 1,610 mg of sodium (and that was just for lunch!)
My husband and I rarely eat “out”, but as our 23rd Anniversary is coming up on Christmas Eve, I wanted to find a restaurant that offered low sodium options. Well, good luck with that! Restaurant chains, which have 20 outlets or more must now list nutritional values, on their menus. Other restaurants can voluntarily offer this information, but few seem to do so. While writing this post, I discovered some amazing information about what’s in that fast food hamburger or your favourite Red Lobster dish. Below is just a small sample I picked:
- Seaside Shrimp Trio (3,860 mg) (hefty, hefty, hefty!)
- Walt’s Favorite Shrimp (2,730 mg)
- Popcorn Shrimp (1,980 mg)
- Slow Roast Prime Rib (12 oz) (1,420 mg)
- New York Strip Steak (14 oz) (230 mg)
- Chicken Tender Platter (1,620 mg)
- Aussie Fries (410 mg)
- Royal Red Robin Burger (2,150 mg)
- Guacamole Bacon Burger (1,450 mg) (I’m guilty on this one!)
- Reds Big Tavern Burger (1,640 mg)
- Keep it Simple Burger (1,010 mg)
- Big Mac (1,010 mg)
- McNuggets (4) (450 mg)
- Egg McMuffin (850 mg)
Kentucky Fried Chicken
- Extra Crispy Chicken Breast (1) (1,230 mg)
- Bean Burrito (1,020 mg)
- Whopper (1,020 mg)
Hormel, the makers of the infamous “Spam” have come out with numerous variations on a theme. The original “Spam” contains 790 mg of sodium in a 2 ounce piece.
The “reduced sodium” version still packs in 580 mg. Curiously enough, however, those same folks have managed to produce “Herb Ox”, which is completely sodium free chicken and beef bouillon in dry, packaged form. Why they couldn’t do the same thing with “Spam”, I’m not sure.
There are millions of folks on restricted diets for one reason or another: heart issues, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc. and some manufacturers are slowly starting to take notice. There are plenty of “salt substitutes” out there, and I have purchased about 6 or 7 of them recently. Some, like “Mrs. Dash”, are not unpalatable, but are just lacking flavour, in my opinion, even though there are numerous varieties. Some are downright horrible with a bitter, metallic taste. One of the best I’ve sampled is “Table Tasty” by Benson’s Gourmet Seasonings, a small family run company out of Nevada. They have a good selection of other seasonings and I am currently awaiting my “sampler” pack. There are other places specializing in low sodium foods, and another one, which I ordered seasonings from is http://www.healthyheartmarket.com. They have numerous offerings, including a low sodium soy sauce, “Chinatown Soy Sauce Dark”, which is pretty tasty. Curiously enough, its manufactured in Jamaica. It has only 145 mg of sodium per tablespoon, compared to most other well known brands, which weigh in at 800 to 1,000 mg or more for the same amount!
Alas, our occasional treat of a Papa John’s “The Works” pizza is now relegated to the black list. Just one slice packs a whopping 1,013 mg! And who can stop at just one?
So, the moral of this whole dreary story is: pay attention to food labels! Your heart will thank you for it.