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7 ways to reduce sodium without sacrificing flavor this holiday season

Posted December 14, 2020 by Dr. Gabriela Orasanu

Woman reading the nutritional facts

With so many celebrations centered on food, it’s easy to lose track of how much we’re consuming — including our sodium intake. In fact, it’s not unusual for a typical holiday meal to meet or exceed our recommended daily value for sodium.

But, what’s all the fuss about? Sodium, or salt, is a mineral that’s essential for life. It’s regulated by your kidneys and is required for nerve and muscle function and maintaining your body’s fluid balance.

However, eating too much sodium is bad for your health and can increase your blood pressure, and cause fluid retention in your legs and feet. For severe cases, it can lead to stroke, heart attack and kidney disease.

For healthy adults, the American Heart Association recommends about 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day and no more than 2,300 mg (or one teaspoon) a day. The problem is the average American eats about 3,400 mg a day.

Even cutting back just 1,000 mg each day can significantly improve blood pressure and heart health. That doesn’t mean classic holiday traditions have to be bland. In fact, family favorites can be updated, even enhanced to bring lots of holiday cheer, while still keeping you on track.

Summa Health offers 7 easy tips and substitutions to help you cut the sodium without cutting flavor.

  1. Avoid convenience foods, such as canned soups, prepackaged pasta, potato, stuffing, rice and sauce mixes. Prepackaged and prepared foods are heavily laden with salt. Also, steer clear of traditionally high sodium foods, such as deli meats, salted nuts, canned beans and processed cheese. When using broth for stuffing, gravy and other family favorites, choose low or reduced sodium varieties.
  2. Make your holiday favorites from scratch using fresh ingredients. That way, you’ll have complete control over how much sodium your dishes contain.
  3. Use fresh meat and skip the brine. Most are aware a holiday ham is high in sodium, but you may not know your turkey or chicken may be injected with salt water. So, when purchasing your holiday meat, be sure to talk to the butcher to find out which options have the least amount of added sodium.
  4. Season your dishes with tasty alternatives, such as spices, herbs, lemon or lime, garlic, ginger and more. Liven up your mainstays with low sodium options, such as pumpkin and ginger, green beans with lemon and pepper, and potatoes with rosemary and thyme. Just be sure to avoid mixed seasonings and spice blends that contain salt, such as garlic salt.
  5. Fill half your plate with vegetables, instead of salty proteins and starches. Also, avoid adding salty meats, such as sausage, ham and bacon, to your veggie recipes. Be sure you’re using fresh or frozen vegetables, or canned vegetables with no added salt.
  6. Check nutrition labels. Reviewing nutrition labels is an easy way to find out how much sodium is in the food you’re buying. As a general guideline, products with less than 5 percent of your daily value of sodium per serving is considered low, while 20 percent or more of your daily value of sodium is high.
  7. Stick to smaller portions when it comes to holiday sweets. Baking powder and baking soda used to get our cakes and cookies to rise are loaded with sodium. If possible, choose recipes that use baking powder, which contains about half the amount of sodium as baking soda, and unsalted butter.

Healthy eating is always important, but it’s especially crucial now

The recent pandemic has reminded us all about the importance of healthy bodies. Good nutrition is always important, but it’s even more important in a pandemic because a well-balanced diet helps support a strong immune system.

It can be easy to slip into unhealthy eating habits this season, but with a little thought and preparation, maintaining a healthy diet does not have to be a chore.

An unhealthy diet, combined with a lack of physical activity, is among many modifiable cardiovascular disease risk factors. In addition, smoking, overweight and obesity, diabetes, elevated blood pressure or hypertension, dyslipidemia, can all be reversed to lower your risk for health problems.

Everyone, regardless of their cardiovascular risk status, can gain health benefits from healthy eating and appropriate physical activity. A healthy diet focuses on increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, lean proteins and oils. While at the same time, decreasing consumption of foods with high sodium levels, saturated or trans fats, and added sugars.

It’s recommended the average adult gets at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week.

Cheers to a happy and healthy holiday season!


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