How many times have you heard the health warning to eat less salt? There are good reasons to consume less salt in the diet. Consuming too much sodium can lead to major health problems. But, our bodies need a small amount of sodium to function properly. There are a few smart shopping tips that can help you select healthier, low sodium items at the market. Let’s explore some approaches that will help you lower your sodium intake.
According to the FDA, the words “salt” and “sodium” do not mean the same thing. Salt, which is also known by the chemical name, sodium chloride, is a crystal-like substance that if found in nature and used to flavor and preserve food. Sodium is actually a mineral, and one of the chemical elements found in salt.
Sodium has a number of uses and can be found in many of the foods we eat on a regular basis. Food additives such as monosodium glutamate, MSG and sodium bicarbonate or baking soda contain sodium. This type of sodium in foods can add up and make a contribution to the amount of sodium eaten in a day.
Remember, foods do not have to taste salty to be considered high in sodium. There are many foods that taste salty such as pickles or soy sauce. There are other foods that have significant sodium content but do not taste very salty. Most of us do not consider cereal or pastries as tasting salty, but they contain sodium.
Sodium is needed by the body in small amounts. This small amount of sodium helps the body balance fluids and keeps muscles and nerves working efficiently. But, don’t overdo salt intake.
The FDA estimates that most Americans eat on average over 3,400 mg of sodium every day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults and children over the age of 14 should limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. That amount of sodium equals about 1 teaspoon of salt.
Adults with hypertension and prehypertension should keep sodium intakes even lower. It is recommended that these individuals only consume 1,500 mg of sodium a day. Limiting sodium to this amount can help reduce blood pressure.
Some favorite foods of children and adolescents are very high in sodium. The Centers for Disease Control ranked the top ten sodium sources for people aged 6-18. Pizza topped the list followed by Mexican-mixed dishes, sandwiches, bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, soups, savory snacks, cheese, plain milk and poultry. Children between the ages of 6-10 consume on average 3,051 mg of salt each day. Children 11-13 year old eat around 3,117 mg a day. Teenagers between the ages of 14-18 years consume 3,565 mg daily. This same 2012 study found that higher sodium consumption was associated with increased blood pressure in these age groups.
Several things you can do to help lower sodium intake.
Use these tips from the FDA to reduce sodium consumption.
Read the Nutrition Facts Label.
The Nutrition Facts Label will allow you to see how much sodium is in foods and beverages. The label is a great tool for the grocery store. You can compare sodium amounts in different brands of the same type of foods. This will make it easier to decide which item is a healthier choice.
Prepare food at home
Limit packaged sauces, mixes, and “instant” products. These foods usually have a high sodium content.
Add flavor not salt
Cut back on how much salt you add to foods as you cook, when baking and at the table. No-salt seasonings are a good option and usually include a blend of herbs and spices that add lots of flavor to food.
Buy fresh foods
When shopping for produce select fresh, frozen without a sauce, no-salt-added canned varieties are better low sodium options. When it comes to meat, choose fresh meat, poultry and seafood, rather than processed varieties.
Rinse away sodium
Rinse sodium-containing canned foods, such as beans, tuna, and vegetables before eating. This will remove some of the sodium. Some packed foods will have sodium claims on the label. Here is a short explanation of what those claims really mean:
- Sodium-free or salt-free means each serving of the product contains less than 5 mg of sodium.
- Very low sodium foods contain 35 mg of sodium or less per serving.
- Low sodium means that each serving contains 140mg or sodium or less.
Sodium is a key component of table salt. Our bodies need a small amount of salt each day to stay healthy. Most Americans consume over 3,400 mg of salt each day. To keep sodium amounts low remember to read food labels and take precautions to lower sodium intake. You can reduce salt in foods by using herbs and spices for seasoning. Try this Chili and Spice Seasoning. It is easy to make and can be stored in your pantry in an airtight container. This recipe includes a combination of zesty herbs and spices. Try it in soups, stews, sauces and casseroles.
Recipe: Chili and Spice Seasoning
Makes: 7 servings
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons oregano (dried, crushed)
2 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon dry mustard
Mix together all ingredients. Store in airtight container.
Paprika. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2017.
Commissioner, Office of the. “Consumer Updates - Lowering Salt in Your Diet.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Office of the Commissioner, .
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "Labeling and Nutrition"