Monday, January 6, 2014

Salty Language

Photo from: Minnesota Historical Society
My wife was recently diagnosed as having high blood pressure. Among the recommendations from her doctor, she was told to try to reduce stress in her life, to try to lose weight and exercise more, and to cut her salt intake to below 2000 mg of sodium per day.

We're no strangers to changing our diets in various ways for health reasons. A couple of years ago, we made an attempt to cut as much sugar out of our diets as possible. Because of this, we didn't figure that lowering sodium could be that much harder. Hell, they have "low sodium" options all over the damn place at stores. It should be a breeze.

Turns out? No, not so much.

Many of the "low sodium" options are really not that low in sodium. For example, let's look at something like chicken broth. In my area, the Walmart brand chicken broth costs $1.89, and has somewhere around 800-900 mg of sodium per cup (4 cups per box, if you're buying it in the boxes, which is what I was looking at). The "reduced sodium" option still had around 570 mg of sodium per cup. That's still a shit-ton of salt, guys.

I figured there had to be an alternative. Grabbing random brands off of the shelf and slowly becoming more and more frustrated did eventually reveal a brand of organic chicken broth that only had 70 mg of sodium per cup (for the same size container, 4 cups per box). But the price was three times what the Walmart brand was!

I managed to find a vegetable broth that fell between the "low sodium" Walmart brand and the organic brand in terms of sodium content and price, but it took a LOT of hunting. I mean, somewhere around 15-20 minutes of pulling out random brands and reading labels. A huge group of people had started to form around before I was done. I'm pretty sure someone threatened to brain me with a can of heavy cream soup if I didn't make a decision.

It was a similar hunt to try to find salsa for a recipe that was low in sodium. Most salsa has around 170-200 mg of sodium per 2 tbs. I had to hunt forever, but I found a semi-local brand--the only one on the shelf like it--that touted itself as "gluten free" and "low sodium" that only had 10 mg of sodium per 2 tbs.

What I've noticed is, even if we're eating low calorie options and watching our sugar and fat intake, the amount of sodium that gets slipped into processed foods is astronomical. The only way, it seems, to circumnavigate all of this and come even close to what is recommended would be to make our own stuff.

I was looking at making some bean burritos that could be frozen and thawed and reheated at random whenever we needed a quick lunch (it's why I was looking for low sodium salsa). Turns out? Low fat refried beans have 480 mg of salt per 1/2 cup.

Obviously, there are some things that are just going to have to be cut out of our diet. (Goodbye licking that life-sized salt statue of Tom Hiddleston.) But some of these options...I could make them from scratch and they'd be low sodium...but who has time for that? And every short cut that I take (say, buying canned pinto beans to make my own quick and dirty refried beans), I still have to double check the sodium count and get the "no salt added" canned pinto beans because the regular has 700 mgs of sodium per cup.

This is the biggest problem with eating healthy. It's expensive. We live in a society where it's currently trendy to be a "foodie" and buy all of your food gluten-free, fat-free, salt-free, animal-cruelty-free--food created from free-range unicorn farts and rainbow magic! But to be able to purchase those products, you have to have a certain financial stability that my wife and I just don't have, that lots and lots of people across the country don't have.

It's been a bit frustrating. When you only have so much time left in your day after work, you have to ration your time out. Just how much time do you spend cooking something and eating instead of doing paperwork, cleaning, doing the laundry, paying the bills, or any number of other things that you don't have time to do because you and your spouse both work full-time jobs.

I don't make homemade apple sauce very often because it takes forever to make, delicious though it may be. That's the reason these short cuts were developed in the first place. But when those short cuts might be killing you? Or when those short cuts will cost 2 or 3 times as much to get them healthy? It forces you to look at things with a new perspective.

It seems that new perspective is holding up in the broth aisle comparing brands for sodium values while other impatient shoppers draw lots to see who's going to beat you to death with a can of olives and stuff your body behind the gluten free cookies where no one will find it.