If you’re like most Americans, you’re eating too much sodium — even if you don’t use the salt shaker to add it to your food.
On average, Americans are consuming about 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That’s 50 percent more than the 2,300 milligrams per day that experts recommend.
A high-sodium diet is problematic because it can increase your likelihood of developing high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke –– the two leading causes of death in the United States.
If you think that putting down the salt shaker is going to solve your sodium problem, think again, says registered dietitian Lindsay Malone, MS, RD, CSO, LD .
“Most people’s sodium intake comes from packaged and restaurant foods,” Ms. Malone says. “So even though we might think of adding less salt to our food as the most important thing, the most important thing really is getting away from those packaged foods.”
The FDA recently issued draft guidance to the food industry to voluntarily reduce sodium content in processed and prepared foods to help reduce average sodium intake.
The recommendations are aimed at companies who make packaged foods sold at the grocery store, as well as restaurant chains.
The new recommendations are a good start, Ms. Malone says. But the No. 1 thing you can do to reduce your sodium intake is to eat whole, minimally processed foods.
If you are really trying hard to cut back on your sodium intake, Ms. Malone says it’s a good idea to stay away from the “Salty Six” — the six foods that are the biggest contributors to the sodium problem in the American diet. They are:
You can still enjoy these foods without the excess sodium, Ms. Malone says. For example, make homemade soup instead of buying the canned stuff or bake a whole chicken instead of getting rotisserie chicken from the deli counter. Or make pizza at home using store-bought dough.
“Any time you cook at home, you have more control over the ingredients,” Ms. Malone says.
If you’re dining out, Ms. Malone suggest choosing simply prepared meals like grilled salmon or chicken with steamed vegetables. Or try a salad with fresh herbs, oil and vinegar. And always, she says, ask for items to be prepared without salt.