I hear this all the time: "I never salt anything anymore, so I know my diet is low in sodium."
If you're subject to high blood pressure, congestive heart failure or even fluid retention, tossing the shaker instead of shaking the salt is a great beginning for a low sodium diet. One teaspoon of TC salt contains 2,000 milligrams of sodium, the recommended limit for low-sodium diets.
If we lived in simpler times and prepared natural foods from scratch at home, shaking the salt habit would be enough to bring a well- balanced diet into line with the 2,000 milligram recommendation.
Unfortunately, our high-tech convenience foods often contain high levels of sodium, because salt and other sodium-based flavor enhancers are added during processing.
Let's look at a worst-case scenario.
If you stop at Hardee's on your way to work and eat a Big Country Breakfast with Ham, you'll be over your sodium limit for the day at 2,010 milligrams. A Ham, Egg and Cheese Biscuit contains 1,400 milligrams of sodium. An innocent-sounding Chicken Biscuit gives you 1,300 milligrams of sodium.
A brown bag lunch consisting of a 1-cup serving of Manhattan clam chowder reheated from the can and packed in a thermos contains 1,800 milligrams of sodium. A 2-ounce turkey salami sandwich adds 600 milligrams. Half a large dill pickle adds 700 milligrams. A couple of Oreos runs the total up by another 120. That's enough sodium for two days in just one lunch!
A chow mein dinner will contain 1,700 milligrams of sodium if the restaurant uses MSG and soy sauce. You add 300 milligrams with each teaspoon of soy sauce you add at the table.
Clearly, danger is lurking out there. Hidden sodium can do you in.
Help is available, but you must choose to use it.
If a high-sodium diet is a health risk for you, it is in your best interest to invest about 30 days evaluating the sodium content of the foods you usually eat. Then, over the next six to 12 months, work at gradually bringing your average daily intake down to the 2,000 milligram level. (Since many Americans consume 5,000 to 8,000 milligrams of sodium a day, this could take a while.) You don't have to give up all high-sodium foods. Just balance them with low-sodium choices.
Initially, food will be less satisfying, but your taste buds will adjust, and you'll begin to enjoy the true flavors of food.
The following resources are at your disposal:
A rule-of-thumb: Eat plenty of fresh or frozen vegetables without sauces, lots of fruit and generous amounts of bread and cereal products that are low in sodium. Have meat, chicken and fish in their close-to-natural state, prepared without breading or high-sodium sauces.
Food labels: Many processed foods now carry sodium information on their labels, and many soups, vegetables and frozen dinners come in reduced-sodium varieties.
One good book: "Fast Food Facts" by Marion Franz provides sodium and other nutrition information for all your favorite fast food shops.
Two good pamphlets: "Calling a Halt to Salt" is available free at all Giant Food Stores and "Salt, Sodium and Blood Pressure" is available from the American Heart Association.
Many good cookbooks: In fact, there are too many to mention. The American Heart Association's cookbook, available in most bookstores, is a good place to start. You'll find many others when you get to that section of the store.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.