My elderly father has heart issues and has been put on a low-sodium diet. I try to be vigilant in reading labels and avoiding foods with high salt content. While we do periodically opt to dine on the occasional take-out meals that probably have a fairly large share of sodium, I really try to cook without much salt (and Dad occasionally uses a sodium substitute when he needs an additional boost of flavor).
Recently, Dad was experiencing noticeable swelling in his feet and legs and a bit in his trunk. His cardiologist put him in the hospital to medically reduce the retained fluids in his body. They took out about 15 pounds over a three-day period. That’s a lot of fluid! Admittedly, much of Dad’s fluid retention is probably due to an elderly heart in an elderly body, but it’s a good example of the type of fluid retention that can happen.
So why the focus on salt? The American Heart Association points out that sodium can increase blood pressure levels in some people because it results in excess fluid in the body, which creates extra stress on the heart. Most people eat about 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily (which is more than twice the recommended amount). This intake comes most often from sodium that is added to processed foods and restaurant foods. Additionally, common table salt – sodium chloride – is by weight about 40 percent sodium. A 1/2-teaspoon of salt contains 1,150 milligrams of sodium.
So it’s really important to watch your consumption of sodium as you age and especially if you have high blood pressure – and a new study suggests that this may be especially difficult for people with high blood pressure, who may tend to gravitate toward more salty foods. This study involved four groups of participants. The first group involved 32 individuals averaging 73 years of age who were treated for hypertension. The second group involved 28 participants who were on average 71 years of age and who had normal blood pressure levels. The third group involved 25 participants averaging 40 years of age who were hypertensive. The final group included 33 people with an average age of 35 who had normal blood pressure levels.
In the first part of the study, the researchers randomly offered the participants French bread that had three different concentrations of added salt. The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire immediately after the tasting to determine which concentration they preferred. The researchers’ assessment found that when served the bread with the salt, the two groups that had hypertension preferred the saltier sample. In comparison, the group of older adults who did not have high blood pressure preferred the sample with the medium salt concentration, while the group with the youngest members who did not have hypertension preferred the sample with the lowest salt concentration.
Two weeks later, the participants were again offered samples of this bread. This time, the bread had the same levels of salt but also an additional oregano seasoning. An assessment was again done following the tastings to determine the participants’ preference of seasonings. When the researchers did the second trial with the bread seasoned with various levels of salt and the addition of oregano, they found that the individuals who had high blood pressure had shifted their preferences to samples with smaller concentrations of salt.
That’s really good news in that with a little creativity, we can make food taste good enough that people will opt for the less salty version. So what can you use in place of sodium and salt to flavor foods? Here are some suggestions:
- Herbs – Marjoram, sage, basil, thyme, mint, rosemary, dill and oregano.
- Spices and seasonings – Dry mustard powder, nutmeg, paprika, poultry seasoning, pepper, curry powder and a bay leaf.
- Fresh citrus juices – lemon juice, lime juice or orange juice.
- Added vegetables and fruits– mushrooms, green pepper, onion, garlic, spicy peppers, pineapple, chives, parsley and cilantro.
- Other flavorings – Different types of vinegars
So have fun playing with new flavors in your cooking! These new tastes can prove delicious – and also can help lower the amount of salt that you and your loved ones are consuming. Your taste buds and your body will be thankful!
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
American Heart Association. (2014). About sodium (salt).
Palo Alto Medical Foundation. (ND). Seasoning without salt.
Villela, P. T. M., et al. (2014). Salt preference in hypertensive and normotensive, older and younger individuals. Journal of the American Society of Hypertension.
Published On: May 19, 2014