Eat Better Food

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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