As a teenager, I remember sitting around the dinner table each night with my family. My mom's chicken casserole or roast and mashed potatoes would grace the table as five hungry kids waited to dig in.
Invariably, my dad's hand would reach for the saltshaker. White specs of table salt would rain over his plate, seasoning each morsel of food. But when the kids would attempt to salt their plates, my dad would shake his head.
"That's too much salt. Too much salt isn't good for you," he'd caution through mouthfuls of his own salty dinner.
Salt is an invaluable part of life. It is composed of the minerals sodium and chloride, which are necessary for a healthy, functioning body. Salt helps the body retain water necessary for many bodily functions. Iodized salt is important for brain development in infants. Consuming salt and water is key to replacing what is lost daily through sweat. Salt helps the muscles to contract and it helps in digestion.
The scoop on salt
Despite the importance of salt in our diets, feeding our families too much salt can be dangerous. Most of the prepared foods we purchase to eat come loaded with sodium. The extra salt is added to create a better taste and increase the food's storage life. But why is consuming too much salt a bad thing? Here is the scoop on salt:
One teaspoon of salt contains 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium. The recommended amount per day for a healthy person is around 2,300 mg per day, which is just under that one teaspoon. But the average person consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium each day - way over the recommended amount.
Salt can cause unwanted water retention. This happens because sodium draws an excess of water into the bloodstream. The body tries to dilute the salt with water. This extra water can cause bloating, swelling and discomfort.
A high intake of sodium can lead to high blood pressure (or hypertension). The extra water in the body creates added pressure in the circulatory system, which is hard on the heart. High blood pressure can lead to damage to the arteries, heart (heart failure which is a leading cause of death), brain (stroke, dementia), bones (osteoporosis), kidneys (kidney disease or failure) and sexual dysfunction.
Health issues, due to the over consumption of salt can be highly detrimental and can disrupt a happy, healthy family life. It's vital for parents to set an example of healthy eating for their children. This way children can learn early on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
If you think you and your family are consuming too much, here are some ways to cut back:
Reduce the amount of salty foods that you prepare for your family
High sodium levels in seemingly unsalty foods can increase our sodium intake. Foods like soup, bread, bagels, pizza, cereal, cold cuts, sausage, bacon, soy sauce, and ketchup can be sneaky sources of sodium. If you're the cook in your family, perhaps find ways to limit these foods.
Many fast food and restaurant dishes can be loaded with sodium
Try to choose low-sodium options or salad bars, where you can control the ingredients.
Read food labels for sodium content
Try to be aware of what you're eating and feeding your family. Limit salty snacks like chips, microwave popcorn, and pretzels.
Add more fresh food alternatives to your family's diet
Preparing fresh fruits and vegetables and cooking from scratch can be more time-consuming, but at least you can regulate the ingredients. Season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt. Also, sea salt is a more natural alternative to regular table salt.
As with any healthy diet, the key is moderation. After all, who likes to eat unsalted popcorn?
Much of the information for this article was found at www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/NU00284