Big Brother is at it again.
On Tuesday, we detailed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ("FDA") new initiative to get Americans to reduce their salt intake by 12%. According to the FDA, we should only eat about 2,300 mg of salt per day (that's about a teaspoon).
I explained why blanket assumptions about daily salt intake can have dire consequences. In the case of salt, too little can be just as dangerous as too much. (In case you missed it, you can catch up here.)
We recommend a "Goldilocks" approach to determine the appropriate amount of salt to suit our personal needs...
A 2015 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine suggested that the ideal amount for adults over 50 was between 1,500 mg and 2,300 mg per day.
So to test these parameters, the researchers conducted a 10-year study on 2,642 adults, aged 71 to 80 years. The participants were placed into three groups according to their salt intake: less than 1,500 mg per day, 1,500 mg to 2,300 mg per day, and greater than 2,300 mg per day. And after 10 years, they found that sodium intake was not associated with mortality, the development of cardiovascular disease, or heart failure.
Of course, if you're someone with high blood pressure, kidney issues, or have a salt-sensitivity, you should aim for the lower end of that spectrum – somewhere around 1,500 mg. But for healthy adults, there's no reason to restrict your sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day. We get 2,325 mg of sodium from just a teaspoon of salt. So if you have a day where you indulge, as long as you're otherwise healthy, don't worry about it.
So if you're worried about your salt levels – or just want to have more insight on what you're putting into your body – do what my team and I do to have more control over what we eat...
1. Make your own food.
When you cook, you have control of the ingredients you put into a meal. Avoid processed foods that are often loaded with sodium. For instance, ordering the shrimp and angel hair pasta dish from the Cheesecake Factory adds 5,130 mg of salt to your daily intake.
Instead, seasoning your food with a pinch of salt (beware of spice blends) and some fresh herbs creates a delicious and fun experience.
Also, I notice that when I limit the amount of salt that I'm eating, I can't tolerate as much as I once did after a while. My taste preferences change, and I don't want to eat those super salty foods because they're overwhelming.
2. Watch your portion sizes.
Dining out often means committing to a huge plate of food. Instead of indulging in an uncomfortable amount of food, take half of your order and save it for another meal.
The Okinawans – some of the healthiest people on the planet – practice something called "Hara Hachi Bu," which we wrote all about here. It's where you only eat until you're 80% full and satisfied.
Using the above example from the Cheesecake Factory, eating just half of that dish would theoretically give you 2,565 mg of salt instead of 5,130 mg.
3. Get the sauce on the side.
When you order your sauce or dressing on the side, you can better control your salt intake. In this way, you can be sure to use just enough of these to properly flavor your food.
Sauces and dressings can also overpower your meal. Maybe skip the sauce entirely and enjoy the flavors of the actual food in your dish. My researcher Misha will skip the dressing on any salad that has cheese in it because for her, the cheese is enough of an accent.
4. Read your nutrition labels.
Know what you're eating by checking the ingredients and nutritional facts on the packaging. This practice will help you make smarter decisions when choosing between brands of food or prepared ingredients.
For example, one slice of deli meat has about 400 mg of sodium. So putting three slices into a sandwich adds 1,200 mg to your daily total, without factoring in any of the other sandwich elements.
Get curious about your favorite foods and find out how much salt they have in them. For instance – fermented foods, which are great for your gut, have a lot of salt in them because salt is a preservative. So it's better to eat a little bit of those foods often, rather than eating a large serving all at once.
5. Ditch the canned and frozen foods for their fresh and dried counterparts. Dried beans and fresh vegetables have not been preserved with salt for long-term storage. Salt makes its way into a lot of canned and frozen products in an effort to make them last longer.
By using fresh and dried ingredients, you skip the added salt. But, if you do want to use a can of beans for easy and delicious tacos, you can rinse them in a colander beforehand and get rid of all the salty juices.
Live your life the Health and Wealth way by knowing how you are affected by sodium, taking control of the foods you eat, and being open to change when it's necessary.
What We're Reading...
- Why everything we know about salt may be wrong.
- Something different: The meaning of life is surprisingly simple.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
November 4, 2021