When I went gluten free 3 years, 1 month, and 4 days ago, all I was concerned about was eliminating gluten, and a small handful of other ingredients I knew I needed to avoid (artificial sweeteners, MSG, onions, garlic, and items with excessive grease or hot spices). While that seems like a lot of things to call a "small handful," I know many people who are allergic to, quite literally, almost everything. I was also particularly lucky -- many of the things I thought I had developed late-in-life allergies too (garlic, onions, but not artificial sweeteners or MSG) turned out not to be allergies. Once my insides healed on my GF diet, I could eat many foods I'd had to give up.
During the course of the past year, Teresa and I decided that once we had our kitchen set-up to easily handle a variety of gluten free meals, snacks, and desserts, now we would work on eliminating ingredients which were unhealthy for both of us.
We started with the two easiest: salt and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). I'll be covering HFCS in my next Kitchen entry.
I researched sodium to find out exactly how much the average person shouldn't exceed per day, and then researched how much salt was in 1 teaspoon, so that we would have a visual to go by. This is what I've discovered (keeping in mind that numbers tend to vary from website to website).
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (released January 2011) state that Americans should not consume more than 2,300mg per day, and if you are African American, have hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and/or are 51 years or older, you shouldn't consume more than 1,500mg per day.
Interestingly, I ran across several different UK websites which recommended no more than 6grams of sodium per day. If you're wondering, the 2,300mg mark for Americans converts to 2.3 grams, and 1,500mg is 1.5 grams. So is food served in the United States saltier than what is served in the U.K.? I do not have research available to verify this idea one way or the other, but having eaten restaurant meals throughout the U.S. and meals in England and Scotland, I would say that I personally find U.S. meals (restaurants) to be far saltier.
And what about that teaspoon visual? According to the Mayo Clinic, you'll be getting 2,325mg of sodium in just one teaspoon! 25mg more than the highest recommended daily allowance.
Should you give up salt altogether? Definitely not! Your body needs sodium -- but not in excess. Among other things, sodium helps your body keep the right balance of fluids. But you can reduce the sodium you take in each day.
We have become a culture of hurry, hurry, hurry, which often leaves us little time for healthy, sit down meals. Before finding out I was gluten intolerant, I frequently ate out with friends and family, and I consumed a great deal of pre-packaged foods. Limiting how much you eat out and how much pre-packaged foods you eat will help your sodium reduction effort right away.
Instead of adding salt to food, try other spices. You may still need to cook some meals with a pinch or two of salt, but if you use other flavors (garlic and onion powder for example, but not garlic and onion salts!), and have the self-control to not reach for the salt shaker at every meal, you will see a good reduction here as well.
Yes, at first your food may seem bland in comparison to what you've been used to eating, but over time, if you really hold yourself to your low-sodium plan, you'll find that you simply do not miss it.
"Why do I need to give up so much sodium?" you may ask. "I don't have high blood pressure!" Neither did I. But if I consumed excess salt, especially (but not limited to) at night, my mouth would burn, my lips would feel swollen, and my heart would race. I would feel more anxious and jittery than if I'd had a cup of coffee before bed! Also, if you take in so much sodium that your kidneys are unable to excrete it all, it will begin to build up in your blood, and this can lead to all sorts of problems. (Check out that link to the Mayo Clinic I posted earlier!)
One of the other things you can do is pay more attention to what you already have in your kitchen, and what you purchase at the store. We have started an inventory (in Excel) of our kitchen. This includes such things as name of product, date opened (if applicable), expiration date, where it is in the kitchen, and undesirable ingredients. This can be high sodium, HFCS, food additives (I'll cover them in another post), or carbs, calories, and fats.
Remember that just because your kitchen is stocked with gluten free items, doesn't mean it is stocked with healthy items. Some are, some aren't.
More Cleaning out the Kitchen posts to come, along with (finally!) some more product reviews!!