When used correctly, salt elevates the flavor of food, making dull nuances pop and bringing otherwise bland dishes to life. The problem is, when used incorrectly and excessively the body responds by becoming visibly puffy, bloated, swollen, like you gained 5 pounds overnight. Long-term, salt has been linked to high blood pressure- the leading cause of cardiovascular disease.
So what is blood pressure exactly?
It’s a measure of the force of blood against artery walls. When that pressure rises too high, it can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, brain, and even eyes. Beyond salt, lack of exercise, poor diet, and family history also contribute to high blood pressure. But if you want to point your finger at the main culprit when it comes to Americans- it’s salt, mostly in processed foods.
Why the Puff?
Salt, or sodium, is responsible for forming water-regulating electrolytes within the body’s cells and tissue which helps prevent dehydration. But it’s a pretty precise system that, when overloaded, can create an overproduction of electrolytes, resulting in a fluid imbalance.
This doesn’t mean you should hide the salt shaker! The majority of this excessive salt intake is thanks to processed foods and condiments.
5 Ways to Wean Your Diet from Excess Salt
According to Paulette Lambert, RD, CDE, director of nutrition for California Health & Longevity Institute, the average American should eat no more than 2300 mg of sodium daily. To help edit your intake, she recommends avoiding:
1) Processed foods from packages, cans. Be sure to buy reduced sodium versions when possible. Most soups and broths have reduced sodium options that are readily available.
2) Many canned soups have increased sodium, some have lower sodium alternatives.
3) Limit frozen entrees. If you need to eat frozen entrees, be sure to look for those with less than 800 mg for the entire meal/entree.
4) Avoid excessive condiments. Use no more than 2 Tbsp of bottled salad dressing and 1 Tbsp of condiments like barbeque sauce, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise (make sure to choose the light version when available).
5) Avoid sodium nitrates in many lunch meats (which can have 400 mg per slice) which increase inflammation in the body. Buy the low salt turkey at the deli counter.
3 Ways to Detox Sodium from your Body
Feeling bloated? Try these de-puffing tips:
1) Drinks lots of fluids like water (try flavoring with fresh fruit if you don’t like the taste of plain water). Tea can also be helpful as the mild caffeine has diuretic properties.
2) Increase the volume of fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those high in potassium and magnesium which can regulate fluid levels in the body. Although we think of bananas automatically for its potassium punch, melons, berries and citrus are also good sources.
3) Avoid concentrated refined sugars. For every gram you ingest, your body retains three grams of fluid.
In the end, don’t be afraid of the shaker, it’s not your enemy, in fact the flavor punch from the salt might make you feel satisfied faster, so that you eat less fat and calories in the end.