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. Evelyn says:

    Any one know the effect of salt if you have glaucoma?

  2. Lori says:

    My fiancee and I cut back on eating out and processed foods. We also use Kosher Salt, which actually has less sodium than table salt. I love Kosher salt and recommend it highly!

  3. Dawn Bingaman says:

    I was diagnosed w/high blood pressure a couple of years ago. My Dr. at the time (she is no longer)never asked about family history, diet, water or salt intake, exercise or anything! She said she would start me on medicine and then never gave me a prescription!! I started doing research on my own. I dropped my daily sodium levels to 1500mg or less (not easy) and my bp is now a steady 120/78 consistently. This takes consistent monitoring and reading labels. You are shocked by labels on things you wouldn’t expect to have high levels in them…it’s an eye opener. I do feel better and within the first week of watching my sodium levels dropped 5 pounds and have kept it off.

  4. Mary Kay says:

    The comment that stated Kosher salt has less sodium then table salt is absolutely incorrect. All “salt” is sodium chloride, with the exception of sea salt and salt substitute which usually has more potassium and less sodium. Kosher salt and table salt are both sodium chloride–the same. The only difference is that table salt (most of it) is iodized (which means that iodine is added to prevent goiter which is a kind of hypothyroidism that results from not enough iodine in the diet. Land locked states without access to lots of seafood in the diet have benefitted from the addition of iodine to our salt–less goiter these days. But the sodium content is exactly the same.

  5. Jill says:

    My boyfriends swears by his salt substitute, which I believe is just potassium. Does having an excess of potassium cuase any harmful side effects?

  6. Karen says:

    Just use Sea Salt if you have to have salt!!!

  7. Ann says:

    I’m on a no salt diet. I hear talk of sea salt and even have some in my cabinet. But do I dare use it? HELP

  8. gwen says:

    All very well -but beware the dreaded goitre!

  9. janet says:

    Use a little kosher salt when cooking, and do not add more. You get used to not adding it. My Dr.told me all of the above not long ago and thinks we should limit salt intake to 1100 mg. Salt is the next big epidemic and causes so many health issues.

  10. patrice says:

    The thing about sea salt is that you need considerably LESS to flavor –it has a strong salt taste.

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