My initial gut reaction is yes, everything in moderation. With that being said, the American Heart Association recommends that we limit sodium intake to 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams a day. One teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 milligrams of sodium! If we ignore salt all together, Americans are getting more than enough sodium through processed foods and convenience items. But how much? The chart below shows how much sodium can be snuck into common products found in our freezers and pantries.
|Chicken Nuggets||4 nuggets||430-500 mg|
|14” Pizza||1 slice||640-700 mg|
|Chicken Noodle Soup||½ cup||890 mg|
|Tomato Sauce||½ cup||480-600 mg|
|Broccoli with cheese sauce||2/3 cup||430-600 mg|
If a child or adult was to consume all of the above items in a given day, his sodium intake would clock in at 3,870 mg of sodium, way beyond what is recommended! Another point to keep in mind, these foods found above are convenience items. These products come in a jar, package, or in the frozen department. Therefore, we don’t realize how much sodium is being consumed because we aren’t adding it to the food ourselves. The salt shaker also contributes to our overall sodium intake.
A recent NY Times article, “Should You Salt a Child’s Food”, discusses the pro’s and con’s to salting your child’s food. Julie Mennella, a bio-psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, is quoted in the article saying that adding a pinch of salt to foods can also be a useful tool to condition children to like nutritious — yet bitter — foods, like broccoli or cauliflower. Although salt can alter the flavor of food, “just a pinch” can add a large amount of sodium that may have you thinking twice. One teaspoon of table salt accounts for 2,300 mg of sodium! That means if you use one teaspoon of table salt, that accounts for your entire recommended daily intake.
Okay, so now you are probably thinking “I don’t want my food to taste bland and boring.” I TOTALLY agree with you. As a registered dietitian who has hosted countless cooking classes, my number one goal is to teach other how to prepare food that is good for you but ACTUALLY tastes good to. Nobody likes to eat food that doesn’t taste good, doesn’t matter if you are an adult or a child!
So, what do I recommend? Crack open your spice cabinet and dust off the bottles. Don’t feel confident seasoning your food? There are tons of spices on the market do the work for you. Mrs. Dash seasoning are ALL sodium free, YES 100% sodium free. You can use large quantities of her spice blends without adding any additional sodium into your dishes. McCormick also has a few sodium-free spice blends on the market. In addition to their products, their online recipe portal has hundreds of healthy recipes created by their in-house dietitian.
So, is it safe to salt our food? In summary, we need everything in moderation, including sodium. The foods that our children are consuming contain a sufficient amount of sodium. Using the salt shaker can cause the sodium levels to add up quickly. Does that mean we have to throw out the salt shaker? Absolutely not, but it is smart to be conscience of how much sodium we are consuming. The supermarkets carry a large variety of salt-free alternatives that use natural herbs and spices that contribute nutritional benefits versus sodium.
With the holidays in full effect, it is even more crucial to watch our sodium intake. Casseroles and traditional holiday dishes are usually packed with sodium. Control what YOU can control! If you monitor your sodium levels 80-90% of the time, then it is okay to indulge every once and a while at a holiday party! Nutrition is a sum of all parts. Every small health conscience decision adds up to a big positive change!
Author: Samantha Pappas, RD, LDN, CPT