There's No Need to Get Salty
High sodium levels in everyday foods like bread and salad dressing can put your heart at risk.
There is no question: We Americans eat more than our fair share of salty foods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults consume more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day on average—an amount much greater than what we should be consuming on a daily basis.
The 2011 Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults limit their sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. People age 51 and older; African Americans; or those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease (it is estimated that more than half of the U.S. population falls into one or more of these categories) need to further reduce their sodium intake to just 1,500 mg per day.
Though sodium is essential for body functions like maintaining appropriate fluid balance, transmitting nerves, and contracting muscles, eating too much can have serious health consequences. As a result, keeping blood pressure within the normal range is very important to reduce your risk of developing life-threatening health conditions like heart disease or stroke.
Sodium is one of the two main components of salt (the other component is chloride), and it seems to be hiding out in just about everything these days. Salt sprinkled on food at the table or added during cooking represents just a small percentage of the sodium Americans consume. Rather, most of the sodium we ingest (more than 75 percent) comes from processed and restaurant foods. Even foods that do not taste salty, like store-bought breads or breakfast cereals, can and often do contain sodium, which quickly adds up throughout the day. Because sodium is found in unlikely foods, it can be tricky to start cutting back. Here are some tips to make you more sodium savvy.
1.) Cut back on processed and restaurant foods.
These convenience foods may make your life easier in the kitchen, but they can also too easily provide you with an unhealthy blast of sodium. By consuming more fresh foods and preparing meals and snacks at home, you have much more control over the amount of salt entering your body.
2. Be label-smart.
If you do buy processed foods, read the nutrition facts label and try to purchase those items that have a lower sodium content compared to similar products. Be aware that the sodium content of similar items can vary greatly between brands. Another strategy when grocery shopping is to look for items with less than 300 mg of sodium per serving. When you do eat out, request that salt not be added to your food. If planning to eat at a chain restaurant, check out the nutrition content of menu items online to determine which contain less sodium.
3.) Don’t be fooled by “healthier” food products.
Items such as “light” or “fat-free” salad dressings may have less fat and fewer calories, but their sodium content is often still sky high. For example, Kraft Free Zesty Italian dressing provides a mere 15 calories per serving, but 480 mg of sodium. Some good news? As excess sodium in the American diet continues to draw greater scrutiny from nutrition researchers and public health officials, expect food manufacturers in the future to put forth a greater effort reformulating their products to include less sodium.
4.) It takes all kinds.
Cook with kosher or sea salt versus table salt if you prefer, but realize that the sodium content is essentially the same. Continue to limit the quantity added no matter what form of salt you choose.
5.) Make a gradual effort to cut back on sodium.
Your palate can become accustomed to a less salty diet; it just needs a little time to adjust.