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Shaking the Salt Habit

Your body needs a certain amount of sodium. Sodium helps your body maintain normal nerve and muscle function as well as fluid balance. But too much sodium, mostly consumed as salt, can spell trouble for your heart and health by placing added strain on your heart, blood vessels and kidneys as your body tries to get rid of any excess sodium.

Consuming high levels of sodium has been linked to high blood pressure.

When you have high blood pressure, you’re also more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, or develop kidney disease.

Most Americans eat too much salt. On average, they take in about 3,440 mg per day. That is nearly 50% more than the recommended limit. But lowering your sodium intake is good for your heart.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the average adult consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium—or about one teaspoon—over the course of a day. An even lower daily limit of 1,500 milligrams a day is suggested for people who:

  • Have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease.
  • Are 50 or older.
  • Are African American; this population has higher rates of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Alternatively, aiming to at least lower your sodium intake by at least 1,000 mg also can help.

The good news is that you can take steps to keep tabs on and limit how much sodium you are eating.

Sodium and Salt. What’s the Difference?

We often use salt and sodium as if they mean the same thing. But they aren’t quite the same. Sodium exists in many forms.

It’s naturally found in many foods, and it’s also added to processed foods during manufacturing. Salt forms when sodium is combined with chloride. Sodium and chloride together create the crystal-type substance that fills our saltshakers and those in restaurant kitchens.

However, most of the sodium in your diet is in prepared food, especially if foods are packaged or processed. The sodium is added during cooking before you even purchase it.

“Losing or hiding the salt shaker is relatively a minor step. It’s the food, not the salt shaker.” —Keith Ferdinand, MD, FACC

Sodium in Some Popular Foods

Food ItemSodium PerServing Size
Ketchup160 mg1 tbsp
Cheese for sandwiches230 mg1 slice
Bacon260 mg1 slice
Turkey breast (deli style)420 mg2 ounces
Pasta sauce480 mg1/2 cup
Rice pilaf (with seasoning)780 mg1 cup prepared

Top Sources of Sodium

  • Breads and rolls
  • Pizza
  • Processed meats such as deli meats, hot dogs and bacon
  • Soups
  • Snack foods including crackers, pretzels and chips
  • Cheese
  • Chicken—believe it or not, chicken is one of the highest sources of salt!

Surprising Sources

  • Sodas
  • Pasta sauces, bottled salad dressings, ketchup and other condiments
  • Meat dishes such as beef stew, chili, and meatloaf
  • Frozen dinners

9 Ways to Cut Salt

Contrary to what many people might think, table salt isn’t the main culprit. Most of the sodium we eat—more than 70%—comes from packaged and restaurant foods.

1. Choose foods wisely.

Contrary to what many people might think, table salt isn’t the main culprit. Most of the sodium we eat—more than 70%—comes from packaged and restaurant foods.

2. Be label savvy.

Take the time to carefully read the Nutrition Facts labels on food boxes and compare foods. The amount of sodium per serving is noted on most packaging (written as a percentage of the recommended daily amount). As a general rule, experts advise choosing products with 5% daily value or less of sodium and steering clear of or limiting products with a sodium content of 20% or more per serving. Look for options that are “low-sodium,” “no salt added,” “sodium-free” and “unsalted.”

3. Be mindful of salt in prepared and restaurant foods.

Quick grab-and-go foods, takeout and restaurant food tend to be high in sodium. When dining out, don’t be shy about asking if your food can be prepared with less or no salt. Also, ask for salad dressing to be served on the side. The best bet is to prepare more meals at home so that you can better control and track your sodium intake.

4. Pick healthy snacks.

Try to keep snacks that promote good health in your home. An open bag of chips or other savory snack tends to disappear quickly, and these salty snacks are loaded with sodium. Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables instead.

5. Watch out for canned foods.

Canned food items—especially soups—are often loaded with salt to preserve color and taste. Some experts recommend rinsing canned foods, whether beans, tuna or vegetables, before eating them to help remove some of the sodium.

6. Spice up your recipes.

Don’t be afraid to use other types of seasonings. Try a pinch of herbs and spices, squeeze in some fresh lemon or lime, or add some crushed ginger or garlic. You’ll find these give your dishes added flavor without the added sodium.

7. Think twice before adding a dash of salt.

A salt shaker has always been a staple in most kitchens and on tables. But a sprinkle of salt here and there adds up. Instead of keeping your salt shaker within close reach, try placing it in a cabinet out of sight.

8. Ask your providers about salt substitutes.

The jury is out on whether these products are safe for certain people, so be sure to ask before using them.

9. Get advice from a nutritionist.

If you need help meal planning and learning more about how to cut down on sodium, consider seeing a nutritionist or dietitian. The DASH diet is also a popular eating plan to help curb salt.

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Some Tips to Make Good Nutrition Easier

A healthy diet can help you maintain a healthy body weight and control your blood cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

1. Choose wisely

Be mindful about choosing heart-healthy foods. For example, try to eat more:

  • Plant-based diets low in fat, salt and added sugars 
  • High fiber and whole grains 
  • Lean protein 
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseed, salmon and other fish, certain oils and nuts)

2. Read food labels

The labels on the side of food and beverage packaging provide a lot of useful information about the nutritional content, including calories, sodium, cholesterol, fat, sugars and key vitamins per serving. 

3. Mind your portions

Many of us eat too much without really knowing it. Portions at restaurants—even the size of bagels, baked goods and other prepared items—have grown over the years.

Know how much is too much, and which foods are better to load up on.

You may find it helpful to visually divide your plate and measure out portions of healthy foods for the week.

4. Learn how to cook healthy

How you prep your food is important.Try to avoid frying food and replace unhealthy fats with good fats when possible. It’s also best to make snacks and meals from scratch and limit processed foods, which often contain hidden sodium and added sugars.

When you do eat out, try to reduce your calories, fat and salt by asking for: 

  • No added butter or salt 
  • Half of the portion to be boxed up before the server plates it for you 
  • The dressing for your salad on the side

5. Limit alcohol

Experts advise limiting alcohol to one drink a day for women and two for men.

6. Don’t shop hungry

If you go to the grocery store hungry, you are more likely to make unhealthy impulse buys.

7. Keep a food diary

This is one of the best ways to look critically at your patterns of eating over time. Based on this information, you can make healthy changes. Nutritional and food tracking apps also can help.

8. Ask for help

Don’t go it alone or attempt to cut out major food groups or make too many changes at once because your efforts can backfire.

Talk with your health care professional or nutritionist about how many calories you should consume each day and come up with a realistic eating plan that fits your life.

Ask your partner or family members to help you stick to a healthy diet.

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Guidelines for a good diet

You’ve probably heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” It’s true. The foods and beverages we consume not only help to fuel our bodies, but they also give us the nutrients we need to function.

How we eat over time can also affect our overall health and body weight. In fact, lifestyle habits that you can change—for example eating certain foods or not exercising—increase your chance of developing heart disease. But how do you know what to eat and what to avoid?

There are many steps you can take to educate yourself. To start, learn how to read food labels, control portion sizes, or even talk to a dietitian or nutritionist. You can also refer to the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which offers information about how to make healthy choices to help prevent chronic disease and enjoy a healthy diet.

Every five years, the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services together issue new recommendations to keep pace with the latest nutrition research. These guidelines aim to offer the best, most up-to-date advice based on the science at hand and sometimes respond to trends.

What Do Guidelines Do?

The Dietary Guidelines are mainly for policymakers and nutrition and health professionals to use to help promote a healthy diet for kids and adults.

The chief goal is to improve health and lower the chances that people develop chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The recommendations give Americans a general blueprint for healthy eating and good nutrition.

They also shape health policies and programs, as well as the types of foods included in the National School Lunch Program and other federally funded initiatives.

Key Recommendations

Here are some of the highlights from the new Dietary Guidelines. As always, it is important to talk with your health care professional about your health and diet.

❱❱ Adopt a healthy eating pattern for a lifetime.

Not surprisingly, the guidelines advise eating a mostly plant-based diet loaded with fruits and vegetables in all three of their key recommendations for a healthy U.S. dietary pattern, a vegetarian pattern, and a Mediterranean-style pattern. They include a balanced diet of nutrient-rich foods including a mix of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and optionally seafood, lean meats, poultry, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. 

The reason is that you don’t eat food groups or nutrients in isolation, so “the totality of the diet is what needs to be considered as that is an overall eating pattern.” All dietary components work together to promote health. The authors offer examples of healthy eating plans including the Mediterranean diet and vegetarian diet. 

Key takeaway: All food and beverage choices matter. It is best to choose a healthy eating pattern that supports your personal calorie limit to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

❱❱ Efforts to help shift to healthier eating should fit with a person’s life and environments.

You should adapt a healthy eating pattern to fit your life. Take into account your personal, cultural, and traditional preferences. The guidelines also acknowledge that the setting where you eat or obtain food matters because it can influence the choices available. For example, your selection may be limited to what is served in school or work cafeterias, or whether you have access to a fresh food markets. 

Key takeaway: When you talk with your health care professional or nutritionist about how to follow a healthier diet overall, make sure to share information about your preferences and access to healthy foods.

❱❱ Too much saturated fat is bad for your health. 

Saturated fats can increase cholesterol levels and clog arteries. There are some easy ways to swap out saturated fats for more healthful fats – for example use olive and vegetable-based oils instead of butter. Prepared foods, especially those with certain meats and cheese are common sources of excess saturated fat. 

Key takeaway: Saturated fats should make up no more than 10% of calories each day.

❱❱ Keep sodium low.

Too much sodium, mostly consumed as salt, has been linked to high blood pressure and stroke, fluid retention and other problems. Most Americans consume too much sodium, which is often hidden in many processed foods or by using the salt shaker too much. 

Key takeaway: Limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day (less than a teaspoon of salt). If you have high blood pressure, are 51 and older or have other health problems, you may benefit from limiting your sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day. Try not to add salt before tasting your food.

❱❱ Limit added sugars.

There is growing evidence that too much added sugar is harmful. Try to limit sugar-packed beverages, which account for nearly half (47%) of all added sugars in the U.S. diet. Water is the best go-to. Added sugars are also found in many processed foods, sweets and prepared foods. 

Key takeaway: Added sugars should account for fewer than 10% of daily calories. That means if your goal is to stay at 2,000 calories a day, only 200 or fewer should be from added sugars. 

– 1 gram of sugar = 4 calories
– 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar
– 1 soda/day = averages 40 grams of sugar = 10 teaspoons of sugar= 160 calories

What is a Healthy Eating Pattern?

Most Americans can benefit from adopting healthier eating patterns. The guidelines suggest following a healthy eating pattern over time to help support a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease.” But what does that mean exactly?

According to the report, a healthy eating plan should include:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas) 
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits 
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains 
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages 
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products 
  • Oils

It should limit: Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium

“Healthy eating patterns and regular physical activity can help people achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic disease throughout all stages of the lifespan.”

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Healthy Diets for Heart

When it comes to heart-healthy eating, how do you know where to start? The good news is several healthy eating plans can help. Research shows these diets—really more of a way of eating than so-called diets—protect your heart.

These plans also help promote healthy eating overall, including how we choose to cook our foods. They also stress a diet rich in whole foods that is filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and unprocessed foods.

Below is a snapshot of several heart-healthy eating patterns. As always, be sure to talk with your doctor or heart team about what’s right for you.

Mediterranean Diet

What it is: Although there isn’t a single Mediterranean diet, this eating plan commonly emphasizes:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • High-fiber foods, whole grains
  • Legumes, including peas, beans, certain nuts
  • Some fish
  • Some olive oil

Fats make up a greater proportion of this diet, but they are mostly from unsaturated oils, such as fish oils, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils (canola, soybean or flaxseed oil), which are thought to have a protective effect on the heart. The Mediterranean diet is also light on dairy and meats.

Benefits: This diet has been linked to weight loss, a lower likelihood of developing diabetes, heart disease, or having a heart attack or second heart attack, improvements in blood pressure and blood cholesterol, and it may even help to slow memory loss.

In fact, a large trial of nearly 7,500 adults showed that following a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil or nuts reduced the number of cardiac events—stroke or heart attack—by nearly one-third among people already at high risk.


What it is: The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is a balanced eating plan that focuses on eating fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, protein-rich foods, and low-fat or nonfat dairy. It is often recommended to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension) and stresses limiting the amount of sodium you consume each day to about a teaspoon of salt (about 2,300 mg). But certain people—those with high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or if you are older than 50—should aim for 1,500 mg or fewer.

Related tip: Many processed foods have unhealthy amounts of fats and sodium. Not eating enough foods with potassium, calcium and magnesium may contribute to high blood pressure, so it’s important to focus on eating a balanced diet.

Benefits: There is a link between eating salt and having high blood pressure. By focusing on foods and preparations that minimize salt, the DASH diet can help you eat healthier so you can prevent or reduce high blood pressure. African-Americans, older adults and people with diabetes who are at greater risk may benefit most from lowering their dietary sodium intake.

Vegetarian Diet

What it is: As it sounds, the vegetarian dietary pattern cuts out meat, sometimes seafood as well, and is rich in plant-based foods. Instead, these diets—and there are several—encourage eating more nuts, seeds and soy products, as well as fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Some people adopt what’s called the “flexitarian” approach to try to limit animal proteins, but still allow for some.

Benefits: There is evidence that a vegetarian diet can reduce blood pressure and may promote health benefits, including lowering the risk of death. This is likely due to the fact that many foods common in the vegetarian diet, including fruit, vegetables and nuts, have been shown to have many health benefits and improve heart health. Also, research has shown that reducing consumption of red meat and increasing consumption of fish and lean meats can help reduce heart disease risk.  Vegetarian dietary patterns have been associated with reductions in atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and many forms of cancer.

Related tip: Vegetarian diets can range from excluding meats to strictly vegan (no animal products). Following these diets means you may get lower amounts of protein, so it’s important to find alternative sources (e.g., beans, milk).

A number of other eating patterns, including the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, can help you lower cholesterol or other risk factors and make sense of how many calories, cholesterol, total fat, soluble fiber and other nutrients you need. As with some of the other eating plans, the TLC diet also focuses on other lifestyle changes, including getting exercise most days and weight loss, if needed.

Keep in Mind

  • Try not to be too rigid with your eating pattern, and make sure it fits your lifestyle so you can stick with it.
  • What’s on your plate and proportions of foods matter—aim to include a variety of colorful foods on your plate and remember portion control (for example, a serving of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards).
  • Look for hidden sources of fats, sugar and sodium.  Avoid processed foods because they tend to have these things in them!
  • Ask your doctor or care provider whether you might need certain nutrients or vitamins or whether some are left out of prescribed diets (for example, you may get less protein with a vegetarian diet).
  • Be mindful about ALL food choices—at home, while eating out and while shopping for groceries.
  • Enlist the support of family members and friends to help you adopt and stick to a healthier dietary pattern.
  • Try to cook your own food. This way, you know what is in it.

Benefits of Heart-Healthy Eating

Even the healthiest among us can benefit from heart-healthy eating patterns, but adopting a healthy eating plan is especially helpful for people at risk for, or who already have, heart disease.

These patterns of eating are designed to help you get the nutrition you need, but also stay within your calorie limits and help manage cardiovascular risk. Heart-healthy dietary patterns have also been shown to lower the risk of many other chronic diseases, including dementia, diabetes and some cancers.

Of course, getting regular physical activity is also a key component of any effort to live healthier and prevent heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.

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Eat Better and healthy food

Many of us know that a healthy diet is important, but when push comes to shove, eating healthy is often easier said than done.

That’s why we’ve gathered tools and information that you need to understand healthy eating and how to incorporate it into your everyday life.

Whether you’re interested in losing weight, managing a health condition or just feeling better about what you eat, our tools can help you reach your goals.