Making Sense of Salt

Our bodies need salt to function, but too much can be harmful. High salt intake has been linked to high blood pressure, the leading cause of cardiovascular disease. While salt isn’t the only cause of high blood pressure, cutting back on high-sodium foods is one simple way to lower your risk.

It may seem obvious that salty foods like crackers, chips, and pretzels are high in sodium, but did you know that 77% of Americans’ sodium intake comes from packaged and restaurant foods? Many common foods can be sources of ‘hidden’ sodium, including breads and rolls, pizza, soup, poultry, cheeses, and condiments. The American Heart Association recommends that people consume less than 2300mg sodium per day, which is about one teaspoon of salt. It’s easy to exceed this (the average American eats about 3400mg per day), so paying attention to nutrition labels is crucial to keeping your intake under control. Here is how the FDA defines sodium levels:

  1. Low-sodium food: less than 140mg per serving
  2. Moderate-sodium food: less than 400mg per serving
  3. High-sodium food: more than 400mg per serving

Keep in mind that labels are based on one serving size, so if you eat the whole container you will need to multiply the amount of sodium by the number of servings in it.

The key to being mindful of your salt intake when dining out is to order carefully. Always choose fresh greens and fruits when available, and ask for dressings on the side or for oil and vinegar to top your salad. Request that your dish be prepared without added salt and keep portion control in mind. Consider requesting a to-go box when you place your order and put half of the meal in the container when it arrives.

One way to counter the effect of high sodium intake may be to eat more foods that contain potassium. Recent studies have shown that people who eat the usual amount of salt but add servings of fruits and vegetables with potassium saw their blood pressure fall significantly. Foods that are high in potassium include bananas, raisins, spinach, chard, milk, potatoes baked with the skin, lima beans, and prunes.

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