Serena Caner, registered dietician

Column: Cutting salt good for your health

Something happened in our hospitals last year: the disappearance of salt packages on your tray.

As part of a Ministry of Health initiative to reduce sodium in our health care facilities, hospital diets are trying to remain below the 2,300 mg recommendation. And while I appreciate the idea, perhaps our acutely ill and elderly are not the ones we should have chosen to focus our policies on. Let’s just say I have spent a lot of time dealing with requests for salt.

The average Canadian consumes 3,400 mg of sodium daily, more than twice the required amount. While many of us no longer salt our food at the table, the salt is already in our food. Salt is used to increase the flavour and shelf-life of processed and packaged foods, and is quite difficult to avoid. You will have an easier time meeting the guideline if you cook fresh ingredients than if you rely on ready-made foods.

While we associate salt with chips, fast food and soups, bread products are actually the largest contributor of salt to the Canadian diet. A flour tortilla has 450 mg sodium before you add cheese, salsa or any seasoned meat or beans.

The problem with too much salt is that it significantly increases your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, it is associated with high blood pressure, reduced bone health and increased severity of asthma. Health Canada estimated that if the average sodium intake were cut in half, the number of people diagnosed with high blood pressure would decrease by 30 per cent.

So what are the best ways to limit your salt intake?

Cook more meals from scratch (eat less processed and packaged foods).

Read the nutrition facts label on your food – foods that have 20 per cent DV or more per serving are considered “high sodium”

Rinse foods canned with sodium (beans, vegetables, meat)

Experiment with other spices and fresh herbs.

Practice portion control (i.e. eat less!). Most foods can be enjoyed in moderation.

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