Question from Debra H.: How can I pick quick cook foods that contain low to no sodium in the summer months?
This is a great question. The majority of Americans consume far more than the recommended daily amount of sodium, increasing risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. The latest recommendations from the American Heart Association suggest that Americans should consume no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day; this is easily surpassed in one or two meals if you frequently eat out or eat a lot of packaged foods.
The good news is that summer is the easiest season in which to keep salt consumption under control because there is so much fresh produce in season. Fruits and veggies do not contain any sodium, and many are loaded with potassium, which counters the effect of sodium and lowers blood pressure. Juicy summer fruits make a delicious snack or dessert.
While vegetables are also low in sodium, they are often paired with salty foods to enhance flavor. You may think you are saving yourself a lot of sodium by choosing a salad, but salad toppings like bacon bits, cheese, salted nuts and seeds, croutons, and bottled salad dressing add loads of salt, not to mention calories. The average bottled salad dressing contains 250 mg of sodium for just 2 tablespoons, which is probably less than half of what the average person tosses on his or her salad. To consume a more reasonable amount of sodium when it comes to salad, skip the salty add-ons and choose to make your own dressing. Simply mix a little olive oil and vinegar or fresh lemon juice.
Other top sources of salt commonly consumed during the summer months are cold cuts, buns and rolls, bread, ketchup, chips, and pretzels. Compare food labels on these products and try to buy the lowest sodium options you can find. Don’t fall for the “reduced sodium” claim on the package, though; this just means that a product has 25% less salt, but it could still be too high. Look for “low sodium”, meaning it has 140 mg or less per serving, or “very low sodium” instead, which contains 35 mg of sodium or less per serving. Choose cold cuts that are lower in sodium, too, or even better, roast or bake your own turkey or chicken. It is very easy to do and will make for delicious sandwiches at your next picnic or a savory salad topping for a quick and easy meal at home.
Finally, when cooking, skip the salt shaker (1/4 teaspoon contains 600 mg of sodium!) and opt for antioxidant rich, sodium-free herbs and spices like basil – ideal for that summer salad with tomato – dill weed, thyme, or oregano.