Lower the Sodium & Turn up the Flavor for Thanksgiving

Marie Hegler,
Food Safety & Nutrition Agent
Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service

Thanksgiving is a holiday dedicated to the act of indulging in a plentiful array of edible traditions. Unfortunately, it usually turns into the act of overindulging. One particular substance that is often eaten in excess during this delectable holiday is sodium. Some media outlets suggest that the average person will consume over 2,000 milligrams of sodium during a single Thanksgiving meal. To put this into perspective, the nation's new dietary guidelines recommend that no one should eat over 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day and half the population should eat even less, just 1,500 milligrams. The smaller limit is for anyone who's in their 50s or older, African-Americans of any age, and anyone suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

However, sodium is a good thing when consumed in moderation. Our body uses this mineral in a variety of ways, from helping transmit nerve impulses and transporting nutrients to balancing fluids. Sodium, mostly in the form of table salt or sodium chloride, also plays a pivotal role in culinary endeavors, such as preserving food, adding flavor, and enhancing color. However, research suggests that excess sodium in our diets is the major culprit behind high blood pressure, which is the leading cause of heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure.

Luckily, you don’t have to overindulge in sodium to indulge in your Thanksgiving favorites. In fact, a few minor changes and adjustments can help you better manage your sodium intake on Turkey Day.

  • Since store-bought seasoning blends are often loaded down with sodium, make your own poultry seasoning.
  • All breads contain sodium, but making them from scratch can help cut a few hundred milligrams, and skipping over the bread basket completely can also help skip added sodium.
  • Opt for low-sodium or no-salt-added processed foods, such as broths for gravy, soups for casseroles, and vegetables in general.
  • Select fresh or frozen vegetables, which have no added sodium except for the frozen ones in a sauce.
  • Roasting foods is a great way to add flavor without having to add a lot of salt.
  • Use herbs, spices, garlic, onion, and citrus to flavor foods.
  • Opt for sweet potatoes instead of mashed potatoes, which often call for heavy doses of salt.
  • Don’t forget the cranberry sauce. It’s naturally low in sodium and pairs nicely alongside turkey and all the trimmings.
  • Watch your portions. Overindulging is less about what you eat and more about how much you eat. Like fat and calories, you can cutback on sodium by cutting back on the portion size.

For more information see HGIC 4241, Serve a Healthful, Low-Cost Holiday Meal, HGIC 4070, Sodium, and HGIC 4054 Halt Salt!

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