Sodium 101: Shaking the Salt Habit

by in Healthy Tips, March 11, 2009

Did you know that about 10-15% of the population is salt sensitive? That means when those folks eat too much salt, their blood pressure rises. Excessive salt intake is also a contributing factor to heart disease. Because we can’t usually pinpoint who exactly has a salt sensitivity, you may not even know you’re at risk for high blood pressure. To play it safe, pay close attention to where sodium lurks in your diet.

Who’s at Risk?
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) 65 million adults have high blood pressure — that’s about 1 in 3 people! If you have a family history of high blood pressure, are overweight or don’t get much exercise, you have greater likelihood than most.

A blood pressure level of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high. Anybody with high blood pressure is at risk for heart attacks and stroke. About 90% of middle-aged adults have high blood pressure these days — that’s a lot of people at risk. Fortunately, there is a way to prevent it.

Taking Action!
According to the NHLBI, four of the six things you can do to prevent high blood pressure are related to food.

  1. Follow DASH: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is an eating plan that has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. This diet emphasizes fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy and is low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. It includes eating whole foods such as whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts and small amounts of red meats, sweets, fats and sugary drinks. You can learn more about the plan here.
  2. Reduce salt in your diet: The current sodium recommendation is 2,400 milligrams per day, which is equal to a teaspoon of salt. According to the Mayo Clinic, 77% of the salt you consume comes from prepared and packaged foods — that means those salty snacks, take-out, frozen and canned foods and salty condiments (i.e. dressings and jarred sauces).
  3. Maintain a healthy weight: Knowing your body mass index (BMI) and if you are at a healthy weight is essential. Find out where you stand by using the NHLBI’s BMI calculator.
  4. Limit alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure. Limit your alcohol to a maximum of 1 to 2 drinks per day for women and men, respectively. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of an 80-proof liquor (like whiskey).

The NHLBI has more info on the other two ways to prevent high blood pressure.

Cutting Salt in the Kitchen
Fresh herbs and spices easily add sodium-free flavor to dishes. Knowing which combinations to use on your recipes is the key — like in this Basil-Flavored Shrimp. This handy guide has helpful hints for bringing out the best flavors.

When buying ground spices, avoid titles with the word “salt” — that is, garlic salt or onion salt. Choose garlic and onion powder instead. Mrs. Dash also makes various salt-free blends. Other salt-free flavorings include fresh citrus juices or vinegars, which go perfectly with fish and veggies.

(*Note: all recipes list sodium content)

[Photo: Steve Woods / SXC]

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Comments (23)

  1. Lance says:

    I started a "low sodium" diet after reading of all the health issues from to much sodium in our diets. Read the labels of everything in your pantry and you will be surprised. Look up the sodium of the fast food restaurants (OH MY GOODNESS). Adults should limit thier sodium from 2100mg to 2400mg per day. Thats a couple of fast food sandwiches at most places. Sodium will be the next big health issue.

  2. To Whom It May Concern:
    Thank you for your email and the article on healthy eating. My comment is that I have high blood pressure and was diagnose with HBP at the age of 27 yrs old at 130lbs. People have a misconception about HBP in that they believe you get HBP from eating and adding salt to your foods or the biggest one – eating pork and fried foods. On the contrary, I have found that snacks; chips, cookies, chocolate to include chocolate candy bars contribute a lot to raising your HBP levels. These foods are saturated in sodium content. Many articles seem to miss this point so the public is not totally educated on what adds to HBP. I wish that media outlets really get it right and dig deep on the real reality and not tell half truth but the entire truth.

    Best Regards,
    Angela Patterson, Author

  3. Jeanne says:

    You are harming the very children you profess to love,with the lunches you send them to school with.Most are riddled with sodium.Children develope their eating habits from the home cook.

  4. i’ve been eating and snacking on cheez-it. it has 24o to 330 mg per serving. should i stay away from them? sometimes i find myself eating an entire box in one sitting.

  5. Stone says:

    If you are eating a whole box in one sitting, then I think maybe you should stay away from them. Not only is sodium a problem, but the calories in an enitre box isn’t exactly low either.

  6. Violet says:

    I love these kinds of articles that aren’t really helpful beyond the obvious CUT BACK! Duh.

    Also, 2,400 mg of salt a day is way too much anyway, and I’m surprised the article didn’t say anything about it. People are only supposed to get along with around half of that, maybe even less.

    My problem is, even with fresh spices and herbs, I find that nothing has taste, or spice mixes designed to ‘replace’ salt make food even worse, like make food bitter. Bitter and sour do NOT equal savory or salty.

  7. Nick Rao says:

    Watch out for those frozen diet meals. Check the sodium levels and don’t be shocked if you find most have 700-800mg or more.

  8. Geo says:

    Watch sodium in can goods just put on low sodium diet and was amazed at salt levels in everyday items

  9. Judith says:

    As a registered nurse who ran an assisted living business, I have seen the changes in people after I admit them and put them on a low salt diet. One man lost eleven pounds of water in one week. His physician had not even addressed it as a problem! I would love to see an movement to get the FDA to regulate the amount of sodium in prepared packaged foods and restaurant foods. Most people don’t read the labels on packages in the grocery. Salt can be as high as 38% of MDR for one serving, which are usually small. Food in restaurants have way too much salt. I get so thirsty after eating out in some restaurants. Some sodium is necessary, but an excess can cause mega health problem. Food that naturally taste better with salt like chips can have the salt content in large letters. Elderly people who shop for themselves often have poor eyesight, or don’t realize the high salt food in their purchases. Salt can contribute to congestive heart failure and hypertension, edema, etc. By the way the gentleman who lost eleven pounds could then fasten the belt on his pants, wear his watch and was more physically active. His breathing was easier, etc. (His wife collapsed in our driveway and we learned she had hypertension. The same geriatric physician had not identified that problem either!)
    Salt content should be in large letters on the front of packages! Problems from excessive salt costs us a tremendous amount in health care costs. If anyone knows how to start public concern regarding this problem and help get a bill passed to make the FDA act would be doing a great public service. I have no idea how to start. I will call my legislator and talk with his staff, and why don’t you.

  10. howlingwolfe27 says:

    @Violet: are you a smoker? I’m not asking to be rude, but I’m a former smoker and I wonder if the bitter taste that you’re getting is a result of taste buds not functioning at full capacity. I found that food began to taste better after I had quit smoking. What spices are you trying? Tony Chachere’s Salt-Free Spice mix is fantastic if you like a little kick in your food. Montreal Steak/Chicken seasoning is great (the spicy versions are fantastic, too), but check the sodium content in those. If you’re looking for more standard flavors, garlic powder and onion powder are common staples in my kitchen.

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