Don’t Pass the Salt

With studies in both Broadcast Journalism from Ryerson University and Holistic Nutrition from the Edison Institute of Nutrition, Miranda Malisani gained the tools to create Live Light Nutrition, a consulting organization offering group sessions, individual consultations and corporate seminars.

This week I feel it’s timely to write about one of my pet peeves as a nutritionist.

The omnipresent saltshaker.

Since you were a child, you’ve watched your grandparents, parents, cousins, and friends all pass around the saltshaker at your kitchen table. Now, you may be entertaining clients or having lunch with colleagues and look around the restaurant and hear others asking to “pass the salt.” 

I see my two-year-old playing with his toy saltshaker in his kid-sized kitchen, adding it to his make believe dishes because the tape-recording that is programmed in the toy says “don’t forget to add the salt!” 

Super annoying.   

In North America, it becomes an unconscious habit at a very early age; something you do out of routine at every meal and it would feel weird if you skipped it. Your palate may also trigger a, “wait a minute, something’s missing here,” if you didn’t do it. 

You might want to  consider changing this programming.

Too much salt intake has been linked to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. It interferes with the absorption of nutrients and depletes calcium. It also causes swelling, dehydration and pressure on your kidneys.

In Canada the average person consumes over 3,000 mg of sodium per day, which is double the amount of the recommended 1500 mg per day, with an upper limit of 2300 mg (approximately a teaspoon).

In last week’s report from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, it was revealed that there is more salt in the meals sold at Canadian fast food chains than other countries. Surprisingly, Canadian fast food salads topped the list of highest offenders compared to other nations. The McDonald’s Tuscan salad is a good example of this claim at a whopping 720mg of sodium.

The fast and “convenient” food choices that can be picked up at lunch or on the way home from work are often the ones with alarming levels of sodium. 

It’s not hard for it to add up, especially if you aren’t reading your food labels everyday.

One of my willing clients named Jeff agreed to share how his sodium levels accumulated. Here is one of his average days before he signed up with me.

Breakfast: Dempster’s Whole Wheat Bagel with Kraft Peanut Butter
(540 mg bagel, 75mg peanut butter  = 615mg)

Snack: Kellogg’s Nutri-grain bar  

Lunch: 6-inch Chicken Parmesan Sub from Subway  

Snack: Bag of Baked Lays Potato Chips

Dinner: 1 Slice of Bruschetta Pizza from Pizza Nova

Snack: Haagen Dazs Cookie Dough Dynamo

Jeff’s grand total on this day was 2,845 mg of sodium. 

I often hear from my clients that they always crave salty foods, which can lead to overconsumption. I have seen constant salt cravings manifest as a result of a magnesium deficiency. Reaching for some magnesium rich foods like Swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, blackstrap molasses, halibut, pumpkin seeds and peppermint may minimize these cravings.  

I also see that many are chronically dehydrated, which can also make you crave salty foods due to an electrolyte imbalance. Try drinking a big glass of water if you have your eyes set on that bag of chips.

Some additional foods to help with salt cravings are celery, handful of raw nuts and seeds, olives (minimal) miso, seaweeds (cook these in with your grains and beans) “unrefined” sea salt in small quantities.

If you are ready to cut down on your sodium intake (you should be) here are a few tips to help you to make the transition:

1. Cut down by half to start with. If you shake the saltshaker four times, shake it twice.
2. Use a salt-free dried herbs and spice medley to replace the salt in your shaker. Use lemon, lime, ginger, garlic, and fresh herbs to bring flavour to your meal
3. Read labels and purchase low-sodium, or salt-free items. 
4. When you do eat out, choose water-dense items to go with your meal: instead of pepperoni on your pizza, choose peppers, spinach, and broccoli. Make sure to hydrate after a salty meal out.
5. Be patient. You taste buds have adjusted to the extreme salty flavour. You may think that the food is bland when you first cut it down, but in time you will start tasting the flavour in real food. Your body will also thank you!

Information not intended to treat, diagnose or cure disease.  If you believe you may have a health condition, see a Medical or Naturopathic Doctor.