Healthy You - Every Day

…And Please Hold the Salt

Salt hidden in commonly eaten foods can drive up your daily sodium intake to unhealthy levels

All About Salt

Salt – sodium chloride – isn’t inherently bad. It enhances flavors and has important functions in binding, stabilizing and preserving food. Sodium is even considered an essential nutrient. “It helps regulate body fluids and keeps muscles and nerves running smoothly,” says cardiologist Anil Gupta, MD, with LVPG Cardiology–East Stroudsburg.

The body works just fine on 500 mg a day. And yet, on average, Americans consume a whopping 3,400 mg of sodium per day.

A recipe for health problems

If our bodies need sodium, what’s wrong with eating a lot of it? To start, too much can lead to puffiness, bloating and weight gain. But even more concerning, it may put you at risk for:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Kidney stones
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stomach cancer

Stay within your limit

Experts recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. That’s the amount in about 1 teaspoon of salt. However, for optimal heart health, those recommendations drop to 1,500 mg a day.

“Don’t rely on your palate to help you monitor intake,” Dr. Gupta says. “Foods can be high in sodium even if they don’t taste salty.” For example, it might surprise you how much is hidden in cereals. Other sources of sodium you might not suspect include:

  • Breads and rolls
  • Sandwiches
  • Soups
  • Burritos and tacos
  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Eggs and omelets

Tips to shake the habit

As you gradually ease up on sodium, your taste buds won’t crave as much salty food. Here’s how to get started:

Read labels

Check the Nutrition Facts on food and drink packages to know exactly how much sodium you’re getting. Reminder: At minimum, you’re aiming for the daily sodium total to come in under 2,300 mg.

Shop smart 

Look for items marked “low sodium,” “reduced sodium” or “no-salt-added.” Several grocery stores even offer low-salt versions of your favorite snacks.

Keep it fresh

“Stay away from things like frozen dinners, fast food and canned soups,” Dr. Gupta says. To build your meals at home, opt for fresh fruits, veggies and meats. That means avoiding meats that are marinated, canned, smoked, brined or cured.

Expand your horizons

Put down the table salt. Instead, let herbs and spices take your food in a new direction. Or try using lemon, lime or vinegar as an added flavor boost.

Divvy it up.

You can curb your sodium intake if you share a meal in a restaurant or take half home to finish the next day.

“Pretty soon, you’ll see that these small changes add up to big health benefits,” Dr. Gupta says.

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