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. Maggie says:

    If you can stop salt for two weeks, you will not be able to add salt to your food, because it will be to salty. Your taste buds change every two weeks and I don’t know if you have noticed that the more salt you use the more it takes the next time you eat. Try the two week test and see if it works. You cannot add any salt to your food for two weeks and you really need to eat fresh foods, not canned or frozen.

  2. R.Kelly Knight says:

    As a meat dept. employee for almost 20yrs. I can’t get over how many people purchase lunch meats for themselves and family-as a budding chef I know first hand how bad the sodium content is in ALL lunch meats and some frozen foods. Right now, the trend is to rid all pre-made and frozen foods of trans-fat,BUT sodium is the biggest culprit! I’ve been a lable reader for years and now I tell my customers the hazards of some of the items of which they purchase! Almost all proccessed meats contain several forms of sodium,not only as a flavor agent but as a preserative. Next time you want to buy some lunch meat that’s on sale,read the ingredient lable first-SCARY! Most of those proccessed meats contain: salt,artificial color,flavor-MORE sodium,nitraits and nitrites,caramel coloring AND yes more sodium! Oh and some mechanically separated meat of some sort-maybe? And it has been proven that hot dogs and bacon cause cancer in our children (aol health news at As a cook ,I only use kosher salt. And only enough for flavor. My b.p. and cholesterol are at normal rates for my age group(47). I highly recommend using only fresh herbs (grow them yourself) and/or kosher salt/seasalt in your meals and don’t buy or at least read the lables on your lunch meat and frozen items and consider, it could save your life or someone you love! And as a after thought,ponder these two things:”How WAS that bologna made? What part of the animal am I REALLY eating? And,I buy some luch meat that has a four month shelf life.How long would YOU keep a roast in YOUR refridgerator???

  3. Rhonda Arrington says:

    I use sea salt but I still use very little. Since i was a child to much salt on potato chips or food makes my lips and tounge crack and bleed so I guess it is my bodys way of saying you’ve had enough.

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