FARGO, N.D. - "This meal is really good," I commented. My husband had prepared roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy on a cold winter day.
"What seasonings did you add?" I asked.
"I just added some garlic, salt and pepper," he replied.
"Dad added salt to the food!" our 14-year-old daughter announced as my son came into the kitchen.
"Dad added salt? This is really, really good!" our 17-year-old son raved.
My husband glanced at me with a bewildered look. I was amused by our kids' excitement about the addition of salt. They like to give their dad a hard time on occasion, too.
Maybe we had gone overboard with our infrequent addition of salt as we cook. We usually add salt "to taste" at the table. Was our food really that bland, or was our home-cooked food less salty than the foods they ate in other places?
According to a 2010 Institute of Medicine report, Americans consume the equivalent of 1.5 teaspoons of salt, or sodium chloride, per day. High-sodium diets are linked to high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. About one of three Americans has high blood pressure and another one-third have prehypertension.
You may have heard the advice to leave your salt shaker in the cupboard. However, most of the salt in foods is not added at the table. Most sodium comes from highly processed foods, such as dinner mixes, or from restaurant or fast foods.
Most table salt contains iodine, an element our bodies cannot manufacture. Our body uses iodine to make thyroid hormones. If we do not consume enough iodine, our thyroid gland can enlarge to form a goiter or large growth at the side of the neck. Goiters are still common in some parts of the world.
A deficiency in iodine may result in fatigue, weight gain and cold hands and feet. If a pregnant woman is low in iodine, her baby may be born with a mental disability.
Iodine is found in the soil in some areas, so depending on where food was grown, food such as dry edible beans and potatoes may provide iodine. Iodine also can be found in variable amounts in seafood, dairy products, eggs and some multivitamin/multimineral supplements.
Be sure you look for "iodized" on the label of the salt containers that you buy. The salt in processed foods typically is not iodized.
These are some tips to manage your sodium intake from http://www.choosemyplate.gov:
· Eat highly processed foods less often and in smaller portions.
· Cook more often at home where you are in control of what's in your food. Eat plenty of fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits.
· Choose more fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt in place of cheese, which is higher in sodium.
· Cut back on salt little by little, and pay attention to the natural tastes of various foods. Your taste for salt will lessen through time.
· Use spices, herbs, garlic, vinegar or lemon juice to season foods or use no- salt seasoning mixes. Try black or red pepper, basil, curry, ginger or rosemary.
· Read the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredients statement to find packaged and canned foods lower in sodium. Look for foods labeled "low sodium," "reduced sodium" or "no salt added."