Your body needs a little bit of salt every day for the sodium it contains.
But too much sodium can boost blood pressure and stress the heart and blood vessels
The low-sodium Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is
- high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains;
- moderately high in nuts and low-fat dairy products; and
- low in red and processed meats.
Following it can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
If you want to tackle cutting back on sodium, try these six tips:
Choose unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Canned, processed, and frozen foods are often loaded with added salt.
Read labels and choose lower-sodium products. When you do buy processed foods, choose items where the sodium content is less than or equal to the calories per serving.
Know where hidden sodium lurks. Some of the highest-sodium foods that are common in the American diet include:
- pepperoni pizza,
- white bread,
- processed cheese,
- hot dogs,
- spaghetti with sauce,
- cooked rice, and
- flour tortillas.
Make these items a small part of your diet.
When eating out, keep an eye on salt content. Some chain and fast-food restaurant items can top 5,000 to 6,000 milligrams of sodium per serving — about four times the healthy daily limit. Downsize your portions by skipping the super-size or sharing a dish, or try to find the lower-sodium choices (many franchises have nutritional information on their websites). When eating out, ask that your dish be prepared with less salt.
Use your sodium “budget” wisely. Rather than spending your sodium allowance on salty snacks and heavily processed foods, use small amounts of salt to enhance the flavor of produce, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and other healthy ingredients.
Train your taste buds. One study found that people enjoy lower-sodium foods almost as much as food with the common sodium overload. It is possible to shift your sense of taste to enjoy foods made with less sodium.
Make these changes gradually but consistently to reduce your sodium, and over time you’ll find that you don’t miss the salt. For more on developing and maintaining healthy eating habits, buy Healthy Eating, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
How to reduce sodium – American Heart Association
Most of us are eating much more sodium than we need, even if we never pick up the salt shaker.
For optimal heart-health, the American Heart Association recommends people aim to eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. That level is associated with a significant reduction in blood pressure, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Americans eat more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. More than 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from packaged and restaurant foods.
Because the average American’s sodium intake is so excessive, even cutting back to no more than 2,400 milligrams a day will significantly improve blood pressure and heart health.
Here are the approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of table salt:
1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
Here’s what you can do to cut back:
At the store/while shopping for food:
Choose packaged and prepared foods carefully. Compare labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium (per serving) you can find in your store. You might be surprised that different brands of the same food can have different sodium levels.
Pick fresh and frozen poultry that hasn’t been injected with a sodium solution. Check the fine print on the packaging for terms like “broth,” “saline” or “sodium solution.” Sodium levels in unseasoned fresh meats are around 100 milligrams (mg) or less per 4-ounce serving.
Choose condiments carefully. For example, soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, dips, ketchup, jarred salsas, capers, mustard, pickles, olives and relish can be sky-high in sodium. Look for a reduced or lower-sodium version.
Choose canned vegetables labeled “no salt added” and frozen vegetables without salty sauces. When you add these to a casserole, soup, or other mixed dish, there will be so many other ingredients involved that you won’t miss the salt.
When preparing food:
Drain and rinse canned beans (like chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.) and vegetables – this can cut the sodium by up to 40 percent.
Combine lower-sodium versions of food with regular versions. If you don’t like the taste of lower-sodium foods right now, try combining them in equal parts with a regular version of the same food. You’ll get less salt and probably won’t notice much difference in taste. This works especially well for broths, soups, and tomato-based pasta sauces.
Cook pasta, rice, and hot cereal without salt. You’re likely going to add other flavorful ingredients to these foods, so you won’t miss the salt.
Specify how you want your food prepared. Ask for your dish to be made without extra salt.
Taste your food before adding salt. If you think it needs a boost of flavor, add freshly ground black pepper or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime and test it again before adding salt. Lemon and pepper are especially good on fish, chicken, and vegetables.
Watch out for foods described using the words pickled, brined, barbecued, cured, smoked, broth, au jus, soy sauce, miso, or teriyaki sauce. These tend to be high in sodium. Foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted may have less sodium.
Control portion sizes. When you cut calories, you usually cut the sodium too. Ask if smaller portions are available or share the meal with a friend. Or, ask for a to-go box when you order and place half the meal in the box to eat later.
Ask about the sodium content of the menu items. A new law requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to provide nutrition information, including sodium content, to customers upon request. The new law will take effect in December 2015, but some restaurants may have the information available before then.
I’ve been eating with less salt for so long that I’m now extremely sensitive to it.
After dinner in most restaurants, I know a dish contained too much sodium when I feel my shoes getting tight. Then I’m thirsty for hours and can weigh 3-4 pounds more the next morning (temporary water weight gain).
Tip: “Sea salt” can have as little as half the sodium of “table salt”. It has a richer, less metallic, flavor and has generally improved the taste of the food I cook with it.