“Consuming too much sodium and salt can raise your risk for high blood pressure, which increases the workload for your heart, along with putting you at higher risk for heart disease,” says Nicole Herrmann, MS, RD, clinical nutrition manager at Sharp Coronado Hospital.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams per day for most adults, especially for those with high blood pressure.
“One thing that is important to know is that there is a difference between sodium and salt — they are not interchangeable,” says Herrmann.
Sodium is a mineral that is created naturally in certain foods and can also be added during processing. Salt contains about 40% sodium but also is made up of 60% chloride.
“For reference, 1 teaspoon of salt has 2,300 milligrams of sodium,” says Herrmann. “It is important to understand that many foods already contain sodium. Taste the food first before reaching for the saltshaker.”
Although most sodium is added to food through commercial processing and preparation, it can also occur naturally in vegetables, fruits and poultry.
Some of your favorite foods are often hiding more salt than you may think. Here are 5 foods you might not know are high in sodium:
- Olives (jarred or canned)
- Legumes (canned)
- Deli meat
So, why is it so important to regulate salt intake?
According to the AHA, decreasing your sodium and salt intake not only helps with blood pressure, but it can also reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and even headaches.
Herrmann suggests these 5 strategies for cutting back on salt:
1. If you are using canned foods, choose low-sodium options when available. You can also help decrease the salt content by rinsing canned food items thoroughly before cooking and using them.
2. Read the nutrition facts labels, paying close attention to the serving size. When looking at sodium content, aim for 140 milligrams or less per serving.
3. Cook more meals at home from scratch with fresh ingredients instead of using boxed, canned or packaged items. This will help decrease the amount of sodium because you control what goes into the meal.
4. Take the saltshaker off the table. If it isn’t within reach, you are less likely to add more salt to your food.
5. Instead of salt, choose fresh or dried herbs and spices to give your meals flavor. Consider these examples:
- Garlic (fresh or dried, not garlic salt)
- Chili flakes
- Curry powder
- Paprika (original or smoked)
If you are concerned about your salt intake, keep a food diary for a few days and consult your doctor. Make sure to ask your doctor for a dietitian referral. A dietitian can help you find the right path to a healthier and more balanced diet.