21 Apr

Cut Salt, Lose Weight

Cut Salt, Lose Weight

Most of us know that too much salt is not good for our blood pressure and it also seems to make us more prone to weak bones and possibly aggravates cancer. But did you also know that cutting back can help you to lose a good 2-3lb in weight in just a week?

It was Graham MacGregor, professor of medicine from St. George's Hospital in London who told me that breaking off a close relationship with salt could lead to an almost instant weight loss.

This is how it works. When we eat excess salt, our bodies hold on to extra water to dilute its presence.

Such retention of salt causes us to hang on to as much as 1.5 litres (two and a half pints) of fluid causing weight gains of 2-3lb" explains MacGregor. “Switching to a low salt intake can cause losses of this fluid and therefore, women can shed up to 3lb very rapidly."

Bloating and swollen ankles can, say experts, literally 'deflate' within a matter of days as a result.

It is rare that you see such instant gratification for making dietary changes and when it comes to slashing our salt intakes, the news gets better, especially if hostage to your monthly cycle when waistbands strain to breaking point.

As MacGregor explains “Exactly the same principles apply to the menstrual cycle where many women swell up. A reduced salt intake can often relieve symptoms dramatically."

To reap these benefits we need to know how much we need and get real about how much salt are we are unwittingly packing away. There is no question that salt is essential to life, required among a myriad of other essential duties to keep muscles and nerves working smoothly. We can do this perfectly well on 2g a day. At the moment we average closer to 9g daily.

Somewhat alarmingly, an apparently healthy-sounding days menu of a bowl of branflakes, a slice of wholemeal bread and orange juice for breakfast; low fat crisps and an apple mid morning, soup and sushi at lunch, low fat flapjack and smoothie in the afternoon and a 'good for you' style ready meal lasagna for dinner can give us 13g of salt.

Substitute a few of these options with fast food junk and the figure soars further. 16g plus of salt a day is unfortunately 'normal' for many of us.

The Government, presumably because they want to make their goal achievable, have set a daily target for salt consumption between what we need (2g a day) and what we currently eat, at 6g a day.

6g is a good starting point, but if you are serious about sorting out your bloated tummy and swollen legs (and of course helping your heart, your bones not to crumble before their time, protecting your kidneys, lowering the risk of asthma attacks and preventing stomach cancer), then halving this to 3g is, says MacGregor, probably the best bet.

The first step in doing so is to take a long hard look at the amount and types of processed foods we consume since they form the lion's share of our meals and snacks these days and contribute at least 75 per cent of our daily salt.

Manufacturers are doing a really good job of reformulating bread, breakfast cereals and soups with lower salt recipes, but they still, along with fast foods and savoury snacks, supply most of our salt.

The fact is though, if you choose carefully, you can still buy such convenience foods and not subject yourself to brown rice and lentils forever. Clever and subtle swaps can help to reduce salt while maintaining a taste-packed, fast track life.

Take the 'healthy' day already mentioned. Swapping from a bowl of fruit and fibre style cereal to a fruit and nut filled muesli, which is naturally practically salt free, immediately whips out almost 1g of salt at breakfast.

A juicy plump peach with a smooth and creamy Greek yoghurt mid morning instead of low fat crisps looses another half a gram of salt. A ready-made salmon Nicoise salad instead of the soup and sushi saves up to 5.5g, while a small 20g bar of Green & Black's chocolate instead of a low fat flapjack saves another 1g (and incidentally 300 calories).

Having a simple dinner of grilled chicken with say, a tomato, basil and olive sauce, soft noodles and a host of your favourite vegetables (both noodles and vegetables cooked without added salt) saves a further 3g compared to the ready-made lasagna. The day's total comes out at just 3g of salt in total and is far from being bland or boring.

There is, however, no doubt that the initial switch to a lower salt diet takes determination. The more salt we eat the more we want and salt is a common denominator in the flavouring of foods. Food manufacturers know we like it so they add it to satisfy our desires. They also add it in some cases to cover the poor quality of ingredients.

The first week of reducing intakes is difficult, but even within seven days our taste buds begin to readjust and it begins to get easier. You gradually begin to detect amazing nuances of taste in everything you eat – even ripe, good-quality tomatoes begin to seem salty. Gradually pasta begins to taste sweeter and basmati rice takes on an incredibly fragrant taste.

It is good to know for instance that a little sourness from lime or lemon juice in a stir fry will emphasise saltiness and reduce the amount of salt required. So to does learning to make the most of foods containing glutamate, which enhances dramatically the flavour of dishes.

Glutamate is a type of protein and is naturally present in plum tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, anchovies and seaweed. In Japan glutamate is known as 'umani', or the 'fifth taste'. Its ability to enhance flavours gives food 'tastiness'.

This means that you can cook pasta without salt in the water, but adding Parmesan gives enough saltiness and tastiness to the finished dish to still make it delicious.

Getting clever in your kitchen is a crucial part of any salt-cutting campaign to help get us get back in touch with our taste buds. Combine this with a few weeks of diligent label reading and within weeks you can be well entrenched in a lower salt, healthier yet flavour-packed lifestyle and be a few pounds lighter without dieting.

Salt Facts

  • Grams of salt are not always given on nutrition labels. You can calculate the grams of salt by multiplying grams of sodium by 2.5.
  • One pinch of salt used in cooking is around 1g of salt.
  • Salt cellars with multiple holes deliver about 1.3g of salt per shake.
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