Not worth your salt
Many low-fat, low-calorie and seemingly healthy foods contain excessive amounts
of sodium
Dr Nancy Sahni 

My blood pressure is high, I am over weight, and my doctor has told me to cut down on fat and salt in food. So now I consume low-salt vegetables and dal," said Dolly aunty while munching on biscuits and low-fat baked potato chips with her evening cup of tea. I wondered how to tell her that these half-a-dozen biscuits and chips are high in sodium. And this evening snack would add to her day’s salt intake even more! Yet, we all do this, may be in a different manner without realising how much salt we are actually consuming! The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 2,400 mg of sodium per day (about 1 teaspoon of salt) for normal people and 1500 mg /day for high blood pressure patients. But most of us consume more than 4,000 mg every day.

Junk food and restaurant meals contain more sodium than home-cooked food. Then there are chips, packaged soup powders etc which also contain salt. Even various breads — plain, garlic bread, naan, tandoori roti etc. contain sodium benzoate as a preservative that makes these fluffy and crispy.

Sodium is also used in cakes and biscuits. Fast foods like cheese burgers are laden with sodium as processed cheese has large amounts of sodium. Even the chicken/vegetarian patties in burgers are full of sodium as are French fries.

In Chinese meals, sodium is present as ajinomoto (mono sodium glutamate). Soya sauce, another favoured ingredient, can contain 1,800 mg or more of sodium in 1 tablespoon. Other sauces like tomato ketchup, barbecue sauce, too, are salt laden. Even salad dressings, various kinds of cheese, croutons, tortilla strips, and meats (especially of the crispy or cured variety), too, have a huge amount of salt. Many low-fat foods may be low in fat and calories but have lots of sodium which is used to add flavour. Even many breakfast cereals, considered healthy, have a huge sodium content. Interestingly, not all foods that contain sodium have a salty taste. That’s why it pays to read food labels.

To decrease sodium in your diet, eliminate processed foods, which account for more than 75 per cent of the salt we eat. Instead of soya or tomato sauces, use citrus juice (lemon and lime) to add flavour to food. Add fresh herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary" to food for a savoury punch without adding salt. Beware of the hidden salts and chuck them out of your diet!

The writer is Dietician, Department of Dietetics, PGIMER, Chandigarh