Saturday, 5 May 2012

Sneaky Salt Saturday: Salad with a Side of Salt

One of my first rotations as a nutrition intern was at a small community hospital. As we sat down for lunch each day I saw the cook open up her lunch salad, reach for the salt shaker and douse it in table salt. I thought, "people put salt on their salads? how odd." I hadn't yet considered what was in that bottled salad dressing I poured over my own salad. 

Canadians and Americans consume about 3400mg of sodium per day (1 1/2 teaspoons of salt). Which is more than double the 1000-1500mg ((2/3 teaspoon salt) recommended daily amount and 50% more than the recommended maximum amount (1 teaspoon). It is estimated that 75% of our sodium comes from processed foods and not the table salt we add at home. So what is the danger in eating so much extra sodium? I'll keep it simple: it leads to high blood pressure which leads to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. Not a numbers person? I personally prefer visuals, so here it is. This is how much extra salt we are eating each day and over the entire year.

Since my time as an intern I have married an Italian who prefers a basic splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil to the bottled preparations I would bring home. Although I have to admit I enjoy his (and that of my friends) homemade salad dressing, I still occasionally succumb to the lure of a good sale price and the convenience of 30 seconds saved. So my first baby step to healthy eating will be to cut back on the sneaky sources of excess sodium in my diet, starting with salad dressing.

The average commercial balsamic or italian salad dressing has between 100-250mg sodium per tablespoon. The one I have in my fridge at this time has 150mg per tablespoon. So rather than boring you with my math, below is a picture to show the difference over the year. Eating one tablespoon of the commercial salad dressing in place of my homemade olive oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano dressing every day is equal to 2/3 cup of extra salt per year. My apologies for the photo quality.

Although this post isn't about sugar, salad dressing can also be a significant source. Even if you are making your own dressing at home, balsamic vinegar can be up to 33% sugar, which is why I now choose red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar instead. Below is a recipe of a dressing my mother-in-law prepares and keeps in the fridge for a week at a time.

Nonna's salad dressing
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
2 Tablespoons Plain Yogurt

Do you have a favorite homemade salad dressing recipe? What are your sneaky sources of sodium? Soup? Fast Food? Cereal? Condiments? Pizza? Cheese?


  1. Here's my fave: Though I must confess, I've been going for bottled quite a bit lately. I think I'm doing pretty good on most of those other sources - we make our own soups, my fave cereal (shredded wheat) has 0 salt and we try not to eat out too often. Not too bad - I think!

    1. Thanks Kim! Looking forward to trying out your recipe.

  2. That dressing sounds very good and simple. I'll probably add salt though. :-P

    I used to cook and eat without ever ever adding salt to anything. But I craved salty snacks like crazy. I also have kind of low blood pressure. I suspect that unlike most people in our culture, I actually needed more salt. Now I find my cooking is more flavorful using a good amount of sea salt. (I do try to stay away from the processed stuff though.)

    1. Hey Erin - great to hear from you! Any chef you meet will probably tell you that you need salt to make the flavors stand out. I too add salt to my cooking as needed. I'm trying to cut out the processed and hidden sources so I can choose the amount to add to my food myself. It sounds like you have already figured that out for yourself!
      Sometimes low blood pressure can be due to dehydration or even anemia from Vitamin B12 or Folate deficiency. (Sorry it's the Dietitian in me.)
      Hope you are doing well

  3. The one I learned in France is similar:

    1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
    2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
    4 Tbsp olive oil
    salt (or not!) and pepper (freshly ground) to taste

    Good on you, D! I need to motivate for my disordered chocolate eating. I really have a problem with it. In fact, I want to go eat some now. And I'm not saying any of this in jest. It's true.

    1. ahhh chocolate my devious friend. I have found the weirdest thing that when I crave chocolate sometimes I can satisfy the itch with yogurt (weird I know) - maybe I'm just wanting a dose of magnesium? Although oysters don't do it for perhaps it's just the sugar I'm craving. Think i'll do a post on sugar in yogurt in the next couple of weeks. Looking forward to trying your recipe!