Contributor: George Thomas, MD
Studies show that cutting down on sodium in your diet can lower blood pressure — reducing your risk of stroke, heart failure and other health problems.
Experts say most people should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day. That’s one teaspoon. People with certain medical conditions should consume even less. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration proposed new guidelines to help get people’s daily salt intake to this level over the next decade from the current average of about 3,400 milligrams — or 48 percent more than the recommended daily limit.
Isn’t sea salt healthier?
Sea salt is generally marketed as a “natural” and “healthier” alternative.
The main differences between sea salt and table salt are in taste, texture and processing. Sea salt has a stronger flavor. However, what people should remember is that both sea salt and table salt have the same amount of sodium by weight.
Should I just stop using the salt shaker?
It does help to avoid adding salt to your food at the table, but unfortunately, a major part of the sodium in American diets — almost 80 percent — comes from processed and packaged foods. These foods can be high in sodium even if they don’t taste salty.
Processed foods include:
- Frozen meals
- Canned or pickled foods
- Snack foods
- Deli meat
- Condiments, sauces and dressings
- Soda (including diet soda)
Checking labels is the only way to know how much sodium is in your food. If you buy packaged or processed foods, choose foods that are labeled “sodium-free” or “very low sodium.”
Also, remember that the amount of sodium listed on the ingredient label references a particular serving size. If you eat more than the listed serving size, you’ll consume more sodium.
How much sodium is in popular foods?
The Centers for Disease Control has a list of six popular foods with high sodium content dubbed the “Salty Six”:
- Breads and rolls – each piece can have up to 230 mg of sodium
- Pizza – one slice can have up to 760 mg of sodium
- Cold cuts and cured meats – Two slices of bologna have 578 mg of sodium
- Poultry – especially chicken nuggets. Just 3 ounces have nearly 600 mg of sodium
- Canned soups – one cup of canned chicken noodle soup can have up to 940 mg of sodium
- Sandwiches – consider the bread, cured meats, processed cheese and condiments, and sandwiches can easily surpass 1,500 mg of sodium
Diet for high blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure, the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a low-sodium intervention. All the foods you would eat are low in fat.
The diet calls for four to five servings of fruit, four to five servings of vegetables, and two to three servings of low-fat dairy. It’s also rich in whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts – while also limiting sugar and red meats.
Train your taste buds
At first, foods may not taste as good without sodium. But you will adjust over time. Natural substitutes that taste great include lemon, ginger, curry, dried herbs (such as bay leaves, basil and rosemary), onion, garlic and dry mustard. You might also use salt substitutes, but check with your doctor first.