While sodium is a necessary component of a balanced diet, too much can lead to high blood pressure and heart problems. Having too high of a salt intake can also lead to water retention, which causes bloating. Your body attempts to maintain a certain salt to water ratio, similar to the ratio in the ocean, and the higher the salt intake, the more your body will try to hang on to water.
The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg or less of sodium per day. However, the average sodium intake is 3,400 mg per day. Just 400 mg will cause your body to retain four cups of water, which is approximately two pounds. It is important to drink plenty of water to flush out excess sodium.
The average person eats quite a bit more than normal during the holiday season. And to make matters worse, a lot of this food is high in sodium. Below is a list of some of the worst culprits with a high daily value of sodium per serving:
• Ham, 50%
• One bouillon cube for stock soup, 50%
• Canned vegetables, 22% to 54%
• Gravy, 18% to 24%
• Hot chocolate, 35%
• Bread, 20%
• Cheese, 18% to 35%
Since there will probably be a lot of sodium present in the holiday spread, let’s look at some ways to reduce our intake.
• Cook as much as you can yourself.
Most of the time, sodium content can be reduced by making homemade recipes instead of buying premade items. For example, since bread is high in sodium, stuffing is as well. However, if you make your own stuffing from homemade cornbread the sodium content will be much lower.
• Do not add extra salt.
Although it’s standard to reach for the salt and pepper for seasoning while cooking or at the table, it is likely not necessary. Start adding less salt than normal to your dishes until you add no salt at all. If you add in other spices, you won’t notice the lack of added salt in most foods.
• Avoid canned food.
During the canning process, a lot of salt is added to preserve flavor. If possible, avoid canned items. This is fairly easy to do with vegetables by buying them fresh or frozen. For soups, look for low or no sodium varieties.
• Portion control.
In general, this is a good rule of thumb for keeping off unwanted holiday pounds and a simple way to cut down your sodium intake. Enjoy that ham, but consider only having half a slice.
• Be careful of sauces.
Sauces, gravies and glazes are all common during the holidays. Essentially, you are just pouring more salt onto already salt-infused food. While it might be delicious to smother everything in gravy, be aware of how much you are spooning on.
• Drink plenty of water.
During the holidays, most people are downing plenty of hot chocolate, eggnog, beer, wine and liquor. Do not forget to intermittently drink water to stay hydrated and rid your body of the extra sodium.
While a lot of holiday food is high in sodium, there are many ways to minimize its effects. By consciously taking these extra steps, you will be taking care of your health and keeping off a few extra pounds. Enjoy your holiday goodies, just do so wisely.
(Marissa Pierce is a certified fitness trainer and KA contributing writer.)