Early Saturday morning, my teen aged sister and I sat down for a little morning chat. In the middle of talking, she jumped up to begin preparing breakfast. In the background behind her chatter, I could hear the toaster going, the microwave beeping, and eggs being beaten.

Then, I hear the salt shaker.

I kind of paused in mid-sentence. I said, “Wait. How do you know your eggs need salt if… you didn’t even taste them, yet?”

“I don’t know… that’s what Mom does.”

How many places do we sneak a little salt? Do you salt your food at restaurants because you just “know” it isn’t seasoned enough? Do you eat a lot of canned or boxed foods? What about your meats – do you check to see if they’re salted before you cook with them? Do you use things like “Garlic salt,” “seasoned salt” or “onion salt” on top of regular iodized salt or sea salt? Do you salt your canned soups, even though they already have – on average – a day’s worth of sodium in each can? And let’s face it – who really splits a can of soup? Not everyone.

When you make baked goods, how much salt do you use? Do you keep tabs on the amount of salt in your processed foods? I’m not even gonna ask about the amount of salt in your favorite fast food dish. I’m just gonna tell you… it’s probably a lot. Salt and sodium hide in places we’d least expect it, which is why consciousness is so important.

If the recommended daily allowance of salt in your diet is only somewhere around 2400mg, then having an order of chili cheese fries from Dairy Queen with 2,550mg of sodium in it seems excessive, right? Aside from having 1,200 calories and being a total fat bomb, slaughtering your daily intake of salt in one sitting does you no favors, trust me.

Our foods come full of salt because certain amounts of it trigger emotional responses in our bodies. Although the amount of salt that triggers the response depends on the kind of food you’re eating, the goal is always the same. To make you feel so good, that you keep coming back for more, because you want that feeling again.

I hate to say it, but that sounds like drugs. I don’t even really have to say it, because there are several studies that say the same. The principle in play, here, is pretty simple. To sum it up, it goes like this:

Our brains have chemical reactions to the food we put in our bodies. As many of us know, chemicals in the brain like serotonin and dopamine play a big part in our moods. Three key ingredients play a major role in the reaction our brains have to the foods we’re eating: sugar, fat, and salt. If a food has an excess of salt in it – without reaching the point where it is unbearable to taste – then your reaction to it will likely be a “good one.” Too much salt, however, can have drastic efects on our systems, regardless of how good it may make us feel.

Having said that, it’s easy to see why foods with excess salt usually come paired with excess fat. It’s all about making you feel good… except… we shouldn’t be eating for food to make us “feel good.” Enjoy eating, sure. But it is not our problem solver.

This excess fat/excess salt combination is how high blood pressure is created. The brand new “padding” that our fatty foods gave us needs blood pumped through it, too… and our hearts have to work doubly hard to make sure that happens. Vicious cycle, isn’t it?

So… how can we cut the salt? Here are 3 quick and easy ways to start off:

  1. Skip the canned goods. If you’re buying canned veggies, buy frozen instead. If it’s soup you’re after, try to make it from scratch (here’s a tip: save your meat bones and boil them with veggies… save the water. That’s soup water!) Give up the canned meats altogether.
  2. Drop the seasoning salts. Do you use garlic salt? Go for garlic powder. Onion salt? Onion powder. Seasoned salt? Sugar, paprika, turmeric, onion powder, garlic powder. Seriously, grab some different seasonings and play with ’em. Try to use no more than a pinch when you cook – especially if you have a day where you have to eat something high in salt.
  3. Double check your TV dinners. If you’re big on microwaveables, try to avoid the ones with too much salt in them. A single pot pie shouldn’t have 3,387mg of salt in it, alas… it happens.

I will admit it. I used to LOVE gooey-fat-nasty-juicy-salty foods. Me and my salt shaker were best friends. However, once I took the time to try to appreciate the natural saltiness in some foods combined with using different spices, I found that I couldn’t treat salt the same… and I haven’t ever since. Give it a try, and who knows – you might find something you like!

Anyone else out there run into this problem? Are you having a hard time with salt? Did you kick your salt habit? Let’s talk!