A Pinch of Salt or Less

Salt – and more particularly the sodium component of salt – has come under increasing fire of late for its role in exacerbating certain health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “about 90% of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet. Too much sodium increases a person’s risk for high blood pressure. High blood pressure often leads to heart disease and stroke.” 

How much sodium do I need? 

Americans typically consume more than 3,000 mg of sodium per day. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans limit their sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. 

Adults who should be especially cautious with sodium intake, include: 

• Those 50 years of age or older 

• African-Americans 

• Those with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, or fluid retention 

To give you some perspective, one teaspoon of salt contains just over 2,300 mg of sodium! Even adding a pinch of salt, roughly 1/8 teaspoon, to a dish adds about 300 mg of sodium. 

What foods are high in sodium? 

According to the CDC, 44% of the salt we consume comes from ten specific foods: 

• Breads and rolls 

• Cold cuts and cured meats such as deli or packaged ham, or turkey 

• Pizza 

• Fresh and processed poultry 

• Soups 

• Sandwiches such as cheeseburgers 

• Cheese 

• Pasta dishes 

• Meat-mixed dishes such as meatloaf with tomato sauce 

• Snacks such as chips, pretzels, and popcorn

Too much sodium increases a person’s risk for high blood pressure. High blood pressure often leads to heart disease and stroke.  

Manufacturer-prepared foods and restaurant-prepared dishes are significantly higher in salt than home prepared foods, generally speaking. Some foods can be surprising in their salt content. For instance, a “healthy” sandwich made of two slices of whole wheat bread, deli turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard, and light mayo provides a total of 2,100 mg of sodium – an entire day’s worth even without the salty potato chips on the side! 

You can find more tips for low-sodium eating at www.intermountainhealthcare.org. My favorite online resources for low-sodium recipes include: www.heart.org; www.sodiumgirl.com; and www.lowsodiumcooking.com. 

Also, keep in mind that your taste preferences for salt will change with time. While you may miss the saltiness of a dish initially, continuing to cook and eat low-sodium foods will allow you to start to recognize the other wonderful flavor nuances in foods. Eventually, you won’t even miss that pinch of salt! Americans typically consume more than 3,000 mg of sodium per day.  

How do I decrease my salt intake? 

Decreasing your salt intake doesn’t have to be hard. Here are some easy tips to get started: 

• When grocery shopping, purchase “No Salt Added” or “Low Sodium” varieties of foods. 

• Cook at home more often. Making your own pasta sauce, for instance, can really be quite simple and it tastes great! 

• Add flavor without adding salt – experiment with salt-free herbs, spices, vinegars, and extracts. 

• Read food labels to become more familiar with the sodium content in the foods you regularly eat. Limit foods with more than 200 mg per serving. 

• Watch the ingredient list for any ingredient containing the words sodium, baking soda, or baking powder. 

• Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. 

• Skip the salt in recipes whenever possible. 

• Don’t add extra salt at the dinner table. Choose to add pepper instead. 

• Ask restaurants to not add salt when preparing your order.