The role of salt in the mediterranean diet.
Salt plays an important role in human nutrition, since it is one of the most important electrolytes of the human body. However, we need to be cautious with regards to the amount consumed during our everyday life, because it has been associated with increased blood pressure. Although the Mediterranean diet includes some salty foods, following some practical tips to limit the amount of salt we receive, we can be sure for its benefits, such as its cardio protective effect.Salt (scientifically known as «sodium chloride») has an important role in human nutrition. It is composed of Sodium and Chlorine and is one of the most important electrolytes of the human body, since it helps to regulate the fluid balance in our body. However, it is also the "Achilles heel" for our blood pressure.
How much salt do we actually need?
Based on the recommendations of various scientific organisations and associations, the daily consumption of Sodium should not exceed 2.5 to 3 grams per day (about 1 teaspoon of salt), quantity that needs to be reduced in half for people with high blood pressure. However, due to the abundance of salt in our physical environment, this results to its overconsumption by an average person.
Where can we find salt?
Around 80% of dietary Sodium comes from processed foods or industrial foods. More specifically, it can be found in:
- Bakery products (e.g. bread, rusks)
- Cold cuts and processed meat
- Salted fish
- Canned foods (e.g. soups, vegetables)
- Savoury snacks
- Breakfast cereals
What is the role of salt in the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet has been accused of being a dietary pattern high in salt because it includes certain salty foods. For example, pickles are usually consumed after having been soaked in salty brine for weeks. Feta cheese is cured and stored in salt brine. Codfish and fish roe salad («taramosalata») are routinely packed in salt. Τzatziki is prepared with the addition of salt. However, it should be remembered that these foods are not consumed on a daily basis or in large quantities. Additionally, the Mediterranean diet does not include or promote the consumption of processed foods. Last but not least, we should not forget that this dietary pattern has been associated with reduced blood pressure.
What can we do to reduce our salt intake and at the same time follow the Mediterranean diet?
Due to the fact that in recent years we have changed significantly our eating habits, it is understandable that it is not easy to completely remove salt from our diet. Moreover, we cannot exclude bread from our daily lives, since it is the basis of the Mediterranean diet. Nevertheless, we can follow some simple tips:
- Reduce the consumption of salty foods, like pickles.
- Replace feta cheese with other unsalted Greek cheeses, such as anthotyros, unsalted mizithra and Domokos Katiki cheese.
- Prefer eating unsalted nuts.
- Eat more fresh foods, since salt is used as a preservative in many processed/canned products.
- Replace salt with herbs and spices when cooking (e.g. lemon, vinegar, garlic, bay leaf, onion, paprika, thyme, dill, parsley, cumin, etc.).
So please try the following low-sodium recipes:
- Salad with a mix of seasonal vegetables, bulgur and unsalted mizithra
- Salad with a mix of seasonal vegetables, unsalted nuts and pomegranate
- “Dakos” salad with a barley rusk, tomatoes, unsalted mizithra and 1 teaspoon of olive oil
- Whole wheat pasta with 1-2 tablespoons of Domokos Katiki cheese and tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes
- Baked chicken with potatoes, lemon, oregano, garlic, peppers and mushrooms
- Fish baked in the oven with laurel leaves and tomato. Accompany it with ½ cup of rice.