You’ve probably heard about the dangers of eating too much refined sugar, but what about the dangers of that other “white stuff?”
Yes, sugar isn’t the only white thing North Americans need to cut back on. According to Nancy Guppy, a registered dietitian and instructor at Chapman’s Landing Cooking Studio, “salt reduction is the next great frontier for nutrition in Canada.”
Studies have shown that Canadians consume far more sodium than the tolerable upper intake limit (UL) recommended by Health Canada – and it’s drastically harming our health. Too much salt is a major factor in hypertension, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. (To learn more about the negative effects of sodium on our health, check out “Hold the salt, please!” right here on Health Local.)
The problem isn’t really that we add too much at the dinner table, Guppy says (although that can be an issue for some people). It’s the amount of salt in processed, packaged and fast food that really contributes to our skyrocketing salt intake. And, unfortunately, the more salt we eat, the more accustomed to it we become.
“We’ve been programmed to have a higher threshold for salt,” says Guppy. In other words, the more salt you eat, the more salt you want.
But if you want to cut back on your sodium intake, it’s not quite as easy as you might first think. Guppy says it’s better to start slowly reducing the amount of salt you eat over time to make it less acceptable to your palate. Here are her tips for how to cut back on the amount of sodium in your diet:
Avoid packaged and processed foods: The more a food is manufactured, the more likely it is to have added salt. From packaged cookies, crackers, soups and even some breads, most contain enough sodium that, when consumed over the course of the day, push the UL over the threshold recommended by Health Canada.
Choose foods with one ingredient: Salt can hide in places you don’t expect, so check all packaging carefully before you buy it. Take fresh meat, for example. Often, you can buy meat (like ground turkey) that is “seasoned.” That’s just a code word for saying there’s added salt.
Don’t be fooled by fancy names: Sea salt, Himalayan salt, kosher salt – they’re all still sodium. While there are some mineral benefits to many of these fancy salts, the amount of sodium you’re eating is still the same.
Cut it out of cooking: Do you salt the water when cooking pasta or rice? Do you add salt to your potatoes when you’re cooking? These are all unnecessary additions of salt, Guppy says. Instead, just boil your pasta in plain water. You won’t even be able to tell the difference.
Do-it-yourself: Instead of relying on packaged foods like canned tomatoes, frozen potatoes or chicken stock, why not try making some of these items yourself? Puree and freeze tomatoes, chop up potatoes yourself and try your hand at making homemade chicken stock (and check out Guppy’s great chicken stock recipe below). If you do it yourself, you can control how much sodium actually gets into your food.
1. Add skinless, bone-in chicken and water to crock of slow cooker. Cut the onions in half leaving skin on. Add to the crock along with whole vegetables - garlic cloves, celery stalks and carrots along with the spices and the vinegar. Cover and cook and simmer on LOW heat for eight or more hours.
2. Remove lid and scoop out chicken and set aside to cool. Use your hands to remove meat from the bone. Set aside for use in sandwiches, soup, casseroles etc.
3. Strain liquid into a large bowl or second pot. There should be very little fat in the stock if you used skinless chicken. If not, you can refrigerate and then discard the fat that accumulates on top. Refrigerate stock for up to 48 hours. You can also freeze the stock/broth along with the meat in smaller containers for up to six months. The vegetables are usually discarded but you can chop up and eat or add to your favourite soup recipe. Enjoy!
A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.