Want to cut the salt in your diet? Kick your recipes up a notch with spices and herbs. That's the upshot of new research that found adults taught to use herbs and spices in place of salt were able to reduce their sodium intake by up to 25 percent in just four months, without significantly compromising on flavor.
The findings, presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association on diet and fitness, suggests teaching people how to flavor food with spices and herbs is more effective than simply suggesting the cut down on their salt intake and figure out ways to do it on their own.
For the study, researchers from the University of California-San Diego had 55 volunteers eat a low-sodium diet for four weeks, with all foods and calorie-containing drinks provided to them. The investigators then divided the group in two and had half of the volunteers participate in a 20-week training program aimed at reducing their sodium intake to 1,500 mg/day by using spices and herbs. The other half reduced sodium on their own.
The results showed that, during the first phase of the study, sodium intake decreased from an average 3,450 milligrams per day to 1,656. During the second phase, salt intake increased in both groups, but those trained to use herbs and spices in place of salt consumed 966 mg/day of sodium less, on average, than others.
"People in the [training] group learned problem-solving strategies, use of herbs and spices in recipes, how culture influences spice choices, how to monitor diet, overcoming the barriers to making dietary changes, how to choose and order foods when eating out and how to make low-sodium intake permanent," said lead researcher Cheryl A. M. Anderson, an associate professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the UCSD.
More than 60 percent of the participants had high blood pressure, 18 percent had diabetes and overweight — ideal candidates for low-sodium diets.
"Salt is abundant in the food supply and the average sodium level for Americans is very high — much higher than what is recommended for healthy living," Anderson said. "We studied the use of a behavioral intervention where people learn how to use spices and herbs and less salt in their daily lives."
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