Sodium is a naturally occurring element that our bodies require to maintain a healthy balance of fluids. Too much sodium, however, throws off this balance. Serious side effects of excess sodium are high blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke or heart attack. Unfortunately, sodium is widely used in the food industry as a preservative or seasoning. If you are monitoring your sodium intake, you should be aware of some unlikely sources.
1. Salad Dressing and Condiments
Mustard, mayonnaise, and salad dressings have preservatives that include sodium. Try making your own so that you can control the amount of salt. Use fresh ingredients when possible in your homemade dressings. Many great sauces can be made using herbs and oils to add new flavors.
2. Canned and Frozen Vegetables
Sodium is used in canned and frozen veggies as a preservative. Rinse them in water to remove some of the salt. Better yet, buy fresh vegetables. The sodium that occurs naturally in produce won’t be enough to throw off your body’s fluid balance.
3. Bread and Pasta
A high amount of sodium is found in baking powder and baking soda. Therefore, bread and baked goods are going to have more sodium than you might expect to find. Read labels and look for reduced-sodium varieties. Another way to avoid excess salt is when cooking. Many cooks use salt when cooking pasta and rice dishes to keep them from boiling over. Try using a dash of olive oil and reducing the heat slightly.
4. Tomato Products
Tomato sauce, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and other canned tomato products are preserved with sodium. Look for varieties that are low in sodium. This is another easy change that you can make at the grocery store or market that translates into a healthier choice in your kitchen and in your diet.
Lunchmeats, frozen meats, sausage and bacon are going to have higher sodium contents from the process used in curing and packaging. Try to buy regularly processed fresh meats instead of cured or pre-packaged cuts. Also avoid adding extra salt as a seasoning to your meat. To add flavor, use herbs or spices.
6. Butter and Margarine
If you need to use butter, use the unsalted variety, although it will still contain sodium. When cooking, replace butter with canola or olive oil. Use oil with herbs or sodium-free seasonings when you sauté onions or vegetables. Using a half butter-oil mixture will give you rich flavors with half of the sodium content.
Water softeners often remove the calcium and increase the sodium. Avoid home or commercially softened waters. Check labels on bottled water for sodium content.
If you are aware of hidden sodium sources, you will be better able to reduce the sodium in your diet. Preparing your own meals is a great place to start because you can control how much salt you are using. Labels are going to be your best source of information for commercially prepared foods.