Shaking the salt habit is much harder than I thought it would be

I’ve taken on a significant battle — I have launched an assault on the salt in my diet.

Our bodies need some sodium, but excess sodium raises your blood pressure, which can result in heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease. Admittedly, I prefer the studies that say salt is not bad for you, but they are strongly in the minority.

Shaking this habit is no easy task for me. I add salt to my cooking and to the food on my plate, so much so that I do it without thinking. I’ve had to phase in my salt reduction plan to not shock my palate unnecessarily.

Firstly, I stopped adding salt to my food at the table (employing the out of sight is out of mind theory; the salt shaker stays in the cupboard now). Not having the salt shaker on the table puts me in line with some of the “finer” restaurants that follow a similar practice, though they do it out of the “perfection” of their food, and not concern for my health.

Secondly, I stopped adding it to my cooking. My cookbooks were no help here, I don’t think I have a single dinner or lunch recipe that doesn’t call for salt, but I’ve simply been modifying them and adding more of the other spices.

There have been moments where omitting salt has been more difficult. I had to stop myself from seasoning the pasta water with salt. It is not only to flavour the pasta; it is also a culinary practice to increase the boil temperature, thus lowering the cooking time. I’m also afraid to bake bread without salt, as I’ve found all recipes for baking are more of a scientific formula than an art form that can be modified creatively.

To ease into this unsavoury foray, I have been cooking more Asian food, allowing for soy sauce, which is heavy in sodium, but is helping me get used to not adding salt.

Nine days in, I was feeling really proud of my efforts. It was time to figure out how much salt I was consuming., recommends 1500 mg of sodium a day, but states a tolerable upper intake level of 2300mg a day (food packaging is based on this higher number).

I had cereal with one percent milk for breakfast, two fajita wraps for lunch, a pickle, two pieces of Toblerone chocolate, gnocchi with tomato sauce with two pieces of bread with butter, and a glass of wine. Checking the packaging and a couple online references, I consumed 3052 mg of salt, double the recommended amount and 750 mg more than the tolerable upper intake level.

I was shocked! Where was all the sodium? The two tortillas were the major culprits, weighing in at 1020mg or 42% of my day’s sodium. Had I used four pieces of bread instead I would have been much better off at 520mg of sodium. The premade gnocchi was also a salt lick at 600mg for one portion, paired with a tomato sauce at 330 mgs of sodium.

This was disturbing. Not adding salt wasn’t even getting me close to the sodium guidelines! Seems I find myself in good company, as over 85% of men and 60% of women exceed the tolerable upper intake level.

No wonder my nine days had gone by so easily, the food was so full of salt already that I wasn’t noticing it lacking.

Would it even matter that I wasn’t adding salt? (Ok I retract that poor reasoning. It is that kind of reasoning that sees our weight creep, our alcohol consumption increase and all kinds of unfortunate excessive behaviour continue. After all, if we have already messed up for the day, we may as well really mess up right? Shall I grab that bag of chips to really close off the day with a salty slide? Of course not.)

I repeated the same tallying effort the following day. I changed my cereal, had a sandwich with bread, added a yogourt, fruit, and again had gnocchi with sauce (no point throwing out leftovers), this time with salad. My sodium intake was a respectable 1962mg (still 462mg above the goal, but at least in the right ballpark!)

Clearly I won’t be able to regularly reach the recommended sodium target without manufacturers getting on board. Since that won’t happen overnight, in the interim I will continue to avoid salting my cooking and meals, if for no other reason than to prove I can quit at any time.

Luckily, since it is summertime, if I get really desperate, at least I can lick the sweat off my arm.

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