Shake Your Salt Habit

Shake Your Salt Habit

The average American consumes about 6 to 18 grams of salt daily. That’s roughly one to three teaspoonfuls. Your body actually needs only about 0.5 grams of salt (0.2 grams [200 mg] sodium [Na]) each day. Reducing the amount of sodium you consume may help you reduce or avoid high blood pressure. That’s important because people with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke. These diseases are the No. 1 and No. 3 killers in the United States today.

American Heart Association sodium recommendations:

Healthy American adults should reduce their sodium intake to no more than 2300 mgs per day. This is about 1 teaspoon of sodium chloride (salt). To illustrate, the following are sodium equivalents in the diet:
 1/4 teaspoon salt = 600 mg sodium
 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1200 mg sodium
 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1800 mg sodium
 1 teaspoon salt = 2400 mg sodium
 1 teaspoon baking soda = 1000 mg sodium

Sources of sodium:

Most foods in their natural state contain sodium. But most sodium in our diet is added to food while it’s being commercially processed or prepared at home. That’s why you need to be aware of both natural and added sodium content when you choose foods to lower your sodium intake. When buying prepared and prepackaged foods, read the labels. Many different sodium compounds are added to foods. These are listed on food labels. Watch for the words soda and sodium and the symbol Na on labels — these words show that sodium compounds are present.

Sodium compounds to avoid:

• Salt (sodium chloride) — Used in cooking or at the table; used in canning and preserving.
• Monosodium glutamate (also called MSG) — A seasoning used in home, restaurant and hotel cooking and in many packaged, canned and frozen foods.
• Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) — Sometimes used to leaven breads and cakes; sometimes added to vegetables in cooking; used as alkalizer for indigestion.
• Baking powder — Used to leaven quick breads and cakes.

Other sodium compounds include:

• Disodium phosphate — Found in some quick-cooking cereals and processed cheeses.
• Sodium alginate — Used in many chocolate milks and ice creams to make a smooth mixture.
• Sodium benzoate — Used as a preservative in many condiments such as relishes, sauces and salad dressings.
• Sodium hydroxide — Used in food processing to soften and loosen skins of ripe olives and certain fruits and vegetables.
• Sodium nitrite — Used in cured meats and sausages.
• Sodium propionate — Used in pasteurized cheese and in some breads and cakes to inhibit growth of molds.
• Sodium sulfite — Used to bleach certain fruits such as maraschino cherries and glazed or crystallized fruits that are to be artificially colored; also used as a preservative in some dried fruits such as prunes.

Eating out with low-sodium:

Americans are eating more meals away from home than ever before. Controlling your sodium intake doesn’t need to spoil the pleasure of a restaurant meal, but order selectively. Consider these tips for meals away from home:

• Don’t use the salt shaker. Use the pepper shaker or mill.
• Be familiar with low-sodium foods and look for them on restaurant menus.
• When you order, be specific about what you want and how you want your food prepared. Request that they prepare your dish without salt.
• Add fresh lemon juice to fish and vegetables instead of salt.

Look for the sodium content in medications:

Over-the-counter drugs — Some over-the-counter drugs contain lots of sodium. Make a habit of carefully reading the labels of all over-the-counter drugs. Look at the ingredients list and warning statements to see if sodium is listed. A statement of sodium content must appear on labels of antacids containing 5 milligrams or more per dosage unit (tablet, teaspoon). Some companies produce low-sodium over-the-counter products. If in doubt, ask your physician or pharmacist if the drug is OK for you.

Prescription drugs — Consumers can’t know whether a prescription drug contains sodium. If you have high blood pressure, ask your physician or pharmacist about the sodium content of prescription drugs. NEVER stop taking your medication without checking with your doctor.


American Heart Association