Week 11: Salt – how much and what kind?

salt how much what kind

We all know that too much salt in your diet is unhealthy.  However, many of us are unsure of how much we should have on a daily basis.  Then there’s the myriad of salts to choose from on the grocery shelf.  Table salt, sea salt, kosher salt – so many choices can be confusing.  Which brings us to the question:  Salt – how much and what kind?

The current CDC recommendation is 2,300 mg. or less of salt per day for healthy people under 50 and 1,500 mg. or less per day for most people over 50.  Sounds like a lot, right?  It only sounds that way – 2,300 mg. of sodium is one teaspoon (6 g.) and 1,500 mg. is ¾ of a teaspoon (3.75 g.).  How many of us actually limit our sodium to one teaspoon, or 6 g. per day?

Most of us are probably aware of the health risks associated with consuming too much salt daily – kidney stones, obesity, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.  However, most American aren’t aware that controlling your sodium intake is about a lot more than just avoiding the extra shakes from the salt shaker.  The average American’s dietary salt comes not from the shaker but from processed foods.

There are the obvious salt bombs – processed foods, snack foods, luncheon meats, canned soup, and frozen meals – but there are others that may surprise you at their high sodium content.  Restaurant  food, prepared pasta sauces, processed breakfast foods (including cereals), bread and muffin mixes and even ketchup.  Just one tablespoon of ketchup has 160 mg. of ketchup.  How many of us limit our ketchup to one serving, a tablespoon?

The reality is that very few people have the slightest idea how much salt they consume in a day.  You can mostly take control of how much salt is in your foods by preparing it yourself instead of relying on packaged or processed and avoiding eating out more than you eat at home.

As with any healthy diet, the salt issue is all about balance and moderation.  You shouldn’t cut it out completely; in small amounts sodium helps to maintain the correct balance of body fluids and aids in muscle contraction and relaxation.  It’s also important in the sweating process, which allows you to cool down and avoid dehydration and heat stroke.

On the other hand, too much salt can have serious effects on your body’s nervous system.  Salt is a key factor in your brain sending nerve impulses to the rest of your body.  For your nervous system to function properly there must be a good balance of sodium and potassium; too much sodium can have negative effects on nerve functions.

A study of 12,000 adults published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that maintaining a diet with equal parts sodium and potassium can actually reduce risk for some diseases. Researchers found that simply cutting back on sodium-rich processed foods and eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables was usually enough to balance the mineral levels for optimum health (http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1106080).

Once you have a handle on sodium intake, the next hurdle is understanding the different salts that are on the market.  Although they all contain the same amount of sodium per serving, the unique flavors of some of them can actually help you use less.  A bonus to most of the “gourmet” salts is that, unlike regular table salt, they are unrefined and don’t contain the additives of regular table salt.

Below are three of the most commonly found salts on the grocery shelves, their characteristics and best uses.

Table Salt

  • Consists of fine, evenly shaped crystals and is denser than other salts. It’s usually mined from salt deposits underground, iodized and contains anti-clumping agents, such as calcium silicate.
  • When to use: Keep out on the table for last-minute seasoning. It’s also good for salting pasta water or seasoning soups.

Kosher Salt

  • Less refined than table salt with larger flakes and coarser.
  • When to use: Kosher salt is the most versatile; use to season before, during and after cooking. Especially good for seasoning meat before cooking.

Sea Salt

  • The least processed; flakes are collected from evaporated seawater and may contain residual minerals that could alter the color.
  • When to use: Best as a finishing salt; usually more expensive so use sparingly.

If you use only one salt, make it kosher. It’s affordable and usually contains no additives.  Remember to check the ingredient label, it should only list salt.

Week 10: Breakfast!

breakfast_newsletter

As a kid you probably heard in health class that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  You probably also heard it from your mama as well, and she made sure you had something before you went out the door for the day.

Turns out, they both were right.  The earliest reference to breakfast is in the late 1700’s, and literally translates to “break  fast,” meaning to eat after not eating for a long time, or a morning meal to break the fast from your last meal the day before.   Even if you eat late at night, most folks will have their supper no later than 8 p.m. and maybe a snack around 9 p.m.  If you average rising at 6 a.m., that means your body has been without fuel for nine hours and needs to fill up on energy for the day.

However, due to packed schedules and in the rush to get out the door and get going, most adults skip breakfast.  Once you get to work, you may gulp something on break (with little to no nutrition or “fuel”) or wait until lunch to have your first meal of the day.  By mid-afternoon your energy level has hit rock bottom and you’re dragging through the rest of the day.

Skipping breakfast is not a good idea for several reasons.  The obvious is to kick-start your day and to give you the energy you need for the morning.  But when you wait too long to fill up on nutrition (i.e. from supper the night before to mid-morning or lunch the next day), your body goes into emergency mode, or a prolonged fasting state.  You’ve gone so long without eating that every bit of the food you eat your body is hanging on to for dear life and stores as a fat reserve to use for the next time you fast.  In other words, your body is thinking, “I don’t know when I’m going to get anything to eat again; I’d better save this for later.”  Other potentially harmful side effects of skipping breakfast include:

  • A higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical nutrition found that women who ate breakfast an average of zero to six times per week were at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than women who at breakfast every day (http://www.livescience.com/39598-reasons-never-skip-breakfast.html).  Other studies have found that people who skipped breakfast were more likely to have high cholesterol, blood sugar and a larger waist size, all of which increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Increased risk of obesity. The Journal of Rural Medicine published a study which found that people who skipped breakfast had a much higher risk of obesity, even more than those who ate before going to bed (livestrong.com/article/431003-can-skipping-breakfast-cause-you-to-gain-weight/).
  • Improves memory/cognitive functions. According to a study published in Pediatrics, students scored higher on memory tests (healthyeating.sfgate.com/influence-having-breakfast-cognitive-performance-3262.html).  Other studies have shown that adults who ate breakfast on a regular basis had better memory retrieval and could more effectively manage complex and challenging information.

One of the main reasons adults give for not eating breakfast is no time.  Even if they do eat, it’s usually on the run, some version of a breakfast bar that processed and made from white flour and refined sugar and has little to no nutritional value, or we breeze through the drive-through and gulp down a high fat and calorie breakfast.  The reality is there are many healthy breakfast options that can be prepared either very quickly or ahead of time, such as:

  • Make an omelet the night before, it reheats very well.
  • Cook eggs omelet-style, then roll into a whole-grain tortilla with sliced red peppers and spinach (can be sautéed ahead of time).
  • Combine whole-grain oatmeal, unsweetened almond milk and some fruit in a bowl. Refrigerate overnight and heat the next morning in the microwave.
  • Whole-grain toast with almond butter and a banana or apple. No time for toast?  Make a to-go sandwich out of it!
  • Make a fruit and yogurt smoothie the night before (plain yogurt, fruit and unsweetened almond milk), give it a quick blend the next morning and pour in a to-go cup.

If that still doesn’t convince you, think of the loved ones in your life.  If we want to encourage the people in our lives to eat healthier and begin our day with a nutritious breakfast, especially our children and grandchildren, we need to let them see us setting the example!

If you are still struggling with breakfast ideas, give me a shout out at kim@inperfectunity.com.  I’ll be glad to help with a breakfast menu that’s quick, easy and tailored to suit your palate!