The truth is that we need salt to live, but we do not need as much salt as the average American is consuming (3400 mg versus the recommended daily allowance of 2300 mg).
Excessive salt intake can have detrimental effects on health of which high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke are most notable.
In addition, reducing salt intake could slow age related bone calcium loss.
Unfortunately, 70% of salt consumed in the diet is from ultra-processed foods. The good news is that your taste buds can acclimate to decreased salt intake over the course of 6-8 weeks according to the National Kidney Foundation.
So what exactly do those sodium package claims on food really mean?
- Sodium free: less than five mg of sodium per serving
- Very low sodium: 35 mg or less of sodium per serving
- Low sodium: 140 mg or less of sodium per serving
- Light (lite) sodium: at least 50% less sodium per serving versus regular version
- Reduced or less sodium: at least 25% less sodium per serving versus regular version
- Low-sodium meal: 140 mg or less of sodium per three and a half ounces
- No salt added means no salt was added during processing but this does not mean it is a sodium free food.
Speaking of salt,
I want to dive deeper into soy sauce, soy sauce alternatives and salt content. We know that soy sauce has a significant amount of sodium and so one may look for alternatives to use in their cooking. One such alternative is liquid or coconut aminos, but what exactly is the difference and is it “healthier”?
Let us go over how these sauces are made:
Soy sauce is made from soybeans, wheat, salt and water fermented with certain species of mold. Since it contains wheat, it is not gluten free.
Tamari is a Japanese sauce made from liquid from miso paste (fermented soybean paste), is usually thicker and has a more balanced in flavor compared to soy sauce. Tamari is often made without wheat and can be gluten free.
Liquid aminos is made by treating soybeans with an acidic solution to break it down into free amino acids (protein). The acid is neutralized with sodium bicarbonate. It is gluten free.
Coconut aminos has a similar taste, texture and color as soy sauce but it is soy free and gluten free. It is made from the nectar of coconut blossoms fermented with salt (but does not taste like coconut).
Now let’s do a side by side comparison of the sodium content with these SPECIFIC brands (nutrition label info from @amazonfresh & Bragg website).
- Kikkoman soy sauce: One TBSP has 920 mg sodium, two grams of protein
- Kikkoman less sodium soy sauce: One TBSP has 580 mg sodium, one gram protein
- San J Tamari: One TBSP has 940 mg sodium, two gram protein
- Braggs liquid aminos: One TSP has 350 mg sodium, One gram protein. One TBSP has 1050 mg sodium, 3 gram protein
- Braggs coconut aminos: 1 TSP has 180 mg sodium, 3 gram added sugar, 0 gram protein, so 1 TBSP has 540 mg sodium and nine gram added sugar.
Bottom Line: I just want to emphasize how important it is to read the nutrition label and make sure you are comparing apples to apples when it comes to the serving size. It can be easy to gloss over 1 TSP versus 1 TBSP. Yes, Braggs liquid aminos contain a small amount of protein, but I would not use it as a primary protein source. It is important to note which sauces are considered gluten free for those who need to avoid gluten.
Culinary Tips to Reduce Salt Intake:
- Try squeezing lemon juice at the end of cooking if you think a dish needs more salt.
- Use herbs and spices to flavor dishes
- If I am going to use a pre-made sauce in a dish (i.e stir fry), I make sure I do not add extra salt since the sauces are typically higher in sodium content.
- Look for reduced sodium/salt or no sodium/salt added varieties of food, especially canned and frozen foods.
- Home cooked meals are generally lower in sodium compared to meals prepared out of the home.
- Reduce the intake of ultra-processed foods (see my post on ultra-processed foods to learn more).
Farquhar et al “Dietary Sodium and Health: More Than Just Blood Pressure” J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Mar 17;65(10):1042-50. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.12.039.