Holidays are just about synonymous with crazy eating. Big meals. Lots of desserts. Snacks on every corner. If you didn’t resist that eating frenzy, don’t feel bad. Now, it’s time to do something about it. And I’m not talking about the typical New Year’s resolution to lose 100 pounds and never eat sugar again. Yeah, like that will happen. Let’s be real.
If you’re feeling a little blimpy after all that holiday eating, the most likely cause is sodium overload. Sodium, aka salt, is in just about everything, and on its own isn’t so bad. However, so much of our everyday food has lots and lots and LOTS of added sodium. On an average day full of cereals, sandwiches, chips, and pizza, you might consume more than 3,500 mg of sodium (about 3 ½ teaspoons of salt) without ever touching a salt shaker. That’s about twice the amount of sodium you should eat. TWICE!
Know what all that sodium does to you? Raises your blood pressure, makes you retain water, overloads your kidneys, and strains your heart. I know people who like a little food with their salt and think nothing of taking medication to control all the side effects this addiction to salt causes. I’d rather control my diet than take any medication, and I say that from experience.
Five years ago, I was on high doses of cardiac medication when I experienced congestive heart failure. CHF is not usually caused by lifestyle factors, however recovery is certainly aided by a healthy diet. So, I got a crash course in low-sodium foods.
First, fresh is always better than processed. Fresh fruit and fresh vegetables have little natural sodium and far more nutrients than canned.
Second, “scratch” cooking, or assembling your own ingredients, will produce a healthier and lower sodium meal. Packaged and processed foods, even the “healthy labels”, always have added sodium that acts as a preservative, at the very least. It also adds taste to ingredients that have had the flavor sucked out of them by processing.
Third, look for sodium in unusual places. Sandwich meats, pasta, bread, and sauces are all high in sodium. Eat open-faced sandwiches (one piece of bread has 200 mg of sodium). Choose real meat instead of sandwich meat. Skip the sauces, especially the processed ones.
Fourth, watch your snacks and drinks. A serving of chips or french fries supplies an entire daily sodium allowance. I prefer something else to eat during the day. Sodas have sodium and won’t satiate the salt-induced thirst that follows a high sodium meal. Sports drinks are absurdly high in sodium and not recommended for even serious athletes.
Drink water and lots of it after you’ve eaten a meal, or meals, high in sodium. Water helps flush your system.
Flavored vinegars and homemade seasonings avoid the added sodium that is in most packaged marinades and seasoning packets. Herbs and spices add no-guilt flavor, too.
Our bodies do need some sodium to balance our electrolytes, but it’s far less than you think. Less than 2 teaspoons, or 2,000 mg, of salt is the most anybody should really consume daily. I found changing my diet to avoid sodium was really pretty easy once I wrapped my head around the unusual places in which it hides. Within a few months, my blood pressure stabilized, and I was able to reduce my medicine significantly. Not everybody recovers from CHF so quickly, if ever. I don’t take that blessing lightly and still try to be careful of my diet, particularly sodium.