Salt is one of the oldest additives to food. Long used to deliver a bit of extra taste as well as for its preservative properties (salt was even used as a disinfectant when other disinfectants were unavailable or undiscovered) salt is actually one of only a few tastes that people are born with a proclivity towards; most other tastes are acquired as we go through our lives.
Yet for all its uses, too much salt is actually quite harmful to you and your elderly loved one. While some amount of salt helps your body maintain the proper chemistry necessary for basic functions, the Western diet has far too much of the stuff for our own good.
What is the problem with salt?
In low quantities salt is actually helpful. The body uses it to, among other things, regulate blood pressure and blood volume as well as to assist in the proper function of nerves and muscles. Yet too much salt causes a myriad of problems ranging from water retention to impaired cognitive abilities to problems with the heart, bones, and kidneys. Of course, there is that most notorious result of excessive salt intake: high blood pressure, which can damage the cardiovascular system and even cause serious issues such as strokes and heart failure.
Salt is in so many of the foods we eat on a regular basis that reducing salt intake can seem difficult, if not downright impossible. Fortunately, there are some easy things you can do to painlessly reduce the salt in your diet and help your elderly loved one enjoy the benefits of a reduced-sodium diet.
Ways to reduce sodium in your diet
Probably the easiest way to reduce salt is by cooking more meals from scratch. Prepackaged, processed foods—as well as many restaurant meals—are extremely high in sodium. By cooking your own meals you can control exactly what goes into your food (and the food of your loved one). This option has the added bonus of saving money, as most food made from scratch is pound-for-pound more cost efficient than prepackaged food.
When you and your elderly loved one do decide to go out to eat, you can make sensible choices by looking for items on the menu that carry a low-sodium designation. If the menu doesn’t say, you can always ask your server and order foods prepared in such a manner as to reduce the sodium content. Typically steamed vegetables and roasted entrees are lower in sodium—although you do need to watch what is used as toppings and seasonings on these foods.
When you cook using canned vegetables, rinse them off before use. Some manufacturers will add salt to the vegetables when they are canned in order to improve the taste. Rinsing them will remove the excess salt and help keep the overall sodium content low.
Be sure to read the labels on the food you buy. Some types of food are extremely high in sodium and they may not even taste “salty” so you would never know simply by taste. Select lower-sodium foods and be creative in what you swap out. For example, instead of using a high-sodium salad dressing, you could simply use your own oil and vinegar combination for a low-sodium alternative.
Although salt has been used for thousands of years, and although we do need some amount of it to ensure proper body function, the foods widely available in the U.S. tend to contain far more salt than we need. Too much salt can have a number of adverse health effects, ranging from the mildly annoying to the deadly.
Fortunately, by taking a few steps and being aware of what is in the food that you purchase and prepare for yourself and for your elderly loved one, you can easily reduce sodium content to more acceptable levels.
Dovey, Dana. Too Much Salt: How A Diet Too High In Sodium Can Affect Your Heart, Brain, And Even Bone Health. April 28, 2015. Available at http://www.medicaldaily.com/too-much-salt-how-diet-too-high-sodium-can-affect-your-heart-brain-and-even-bone-330910. Last visited November 13, 2015.
Haupt, Angela and Payne, Jeremy. 9 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reduce Sodium Intake. August 22, 2011. Available at http://health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/heart/articles/2011/08/11/9-surprisingly-simple-ways-to-cut-salt. Last visited November 13, 2015.