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The Holidays and Your Salt Intake

Posted on December 17 2015

Watching daily sodium intake this Holiday Season is important for some

 For many people living with high blood pressure, heart failure and other chronic conditions, managing sodium in the foods they eat is a year-round exercise. But it seems like everyone ignores it during the holiday season.

  The holidays can pose a daunting challenge to those trying to keep their salt intake to a healthy minimum.

Thanksgiving in November starts off the holiday challenge of watching your salt intake and December continues the trend.  This whole holiday season is filled with great foods and large meals, many of which, says Tarah Hoffmann, a registered dietitian at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill., contain large amounts of salt.

  “One of the reasons we love the holiday is the foods, and one of the reasons we love the food so much is that a lot of it is packed with flavor-enhancing salt,” Hoffmann says.“Many holiday staples such as ham, turkey, many sides and baked goods are very high in sodium, even when they don’t taste salty.”

Here are a few tips to help reduce some of the salt present in a typical holiday meal:

  1. The Ham: Plan ahead with your ham – Many people think there’s nothing better than a holiday ham on the table. But, ham is definitely on the watch list for those on a low sodium diet.

  To lower the salt content in the ham at your table, make it a practice of soaking the ham overnight in cold water before cooking. This soaking draws salt out of the ham and frequent water changes can reduce sodium significantly, she says. But, even reduced-sodium ham can still feature relatively high salt levels that should be avoided by those who are under tight restrictions.

  2. Sides: Go homemade with your sides – The sodium content in side dishes such as stuffing, mashed potatoes and many casseroles is more easily controlled by making them yourself,from scratch, Potatoes and most breads used for stuffing aren’t naturally salty, but traditional holiday preparations of these ingredients can pump up sodium content to risky levels. And, pre-packaged, pre-prepared versions of these sides can pack a very unhealthy sodium punch. Try cooking with unsalted butter, to avoid any “hidden” sodium, as well as replacing some salt with parsley and other herbs, or finding a tasty salt substitute.

Study those spices – Many cooks spruce up their dishes with spice blends, but salt is often a significant ingredient of many combination spices, including the “poultry seasoning” cooks use to dress up their holiday birds. Make sure you are checking labels carefully before using these products to see how much salt they’re contain. Cooks can also substitute onion, garlic and other herbs for salt in many recipes.

  1. Gravy: Guarded with gravy – Many pre-made gravy varieties now have low-sodium versions that you can use to cut some salt. But, if you do make your own gravy, make sure to use low-salt broth or soup as the base. And, remember that herbs and spices can come to the rescue again in gravy, with pepper, garlic, onion and chives being among most chef’s personal choices. Remember making from scratch takes more of a commitment to managing your salt intake, but you will be glad you did.
  1. Turkey: Raw turkey is naturally low in sodium, but many companies "plump" their turkeys by injecting salt water into the meat before the birds are shipped to the store. You can find this out by reading the fine print on the label. Try buying a fresh turkey directly from a farm or butcher so you're certain of what's in your holiday's main dish.
  1. Vegetables: Ensure you're getting the least amount of salt in your vegetable dishes by making them yourself. If you do choose to purchase pre-cut vegetables, avoid canned and choose frozen instead, since these will have little or no salt. Avoid any frozen vegetables that come in a sauce though, since these sauces can be full of salt.
  1. Potatoes: aren't high in salt themselves, but the way they're prepared for most holiday meals can make them so. People often dress them with salted butter, and then salt them again even more to taste. Make them yourself or try sweet potatoes, which contain very little sodium and are a "sweet" alternative.

Really the key to lowering your salt content, not just during the holidays but through the whole year is to go with meals; breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks that are made with natural products.

You will then know exactly how much salt is used in the preparation because you are making it yourself, from scratch. We know it’s a lot easier to open up a package, whether it’s a can or jar but you are going to pay the price for that convenience.  Remember, read those labels and be aware of how much sodium is contained in those grocery shelf products.  You can get your salt intake under control, but it has to be a life style change. Not just during the holidays!  Keep at it so that you will be around for many holidays to come.

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