Although most sodium is added to food through commercial processing and preparation, Barbara Bauer, RDN, clinical nutrition program manager at Sharp Coronado Hospital, reminds us that salt can occur naturally in vegetables, fruits and poultry.
The United States Dietary Guidelines advise that those over age 14 consume no more than 2,300 milligrams per day, and suggest a diet containing 1,500 mg to 2,300 mg of sodium per day for children under 14. Currently, the average American eats more than 3,400 mg each day, fueling heart disease and an increased risk of stroke.
“One tablespoon of salt contains 6,976 mg of sodium, while one teaspoon has 2,325 mg of sodium,” says Bauer. “It is important to understand that many foods already contain sodium. Taste the food first before reaching for the salt shaker.”
For example, many dietitians like Bauer recommend fresh chicken as a lower-sodium alternative to deli meats that are injected with water, salt and preservatives to hold moisture and enhance flavor.
Some of your favorite vegetables are often hiding more salt than you may think. Here are five surprising vegetables with natural sodium (per 1 cup serving):
- Olives, jarred or canned (988 mg)
- Spinach, cooked (126 mg)
- Beets, raw (106 mg)
- Celery, raw (81 mg)
- Artichokes, cooked (72 mg)
So, why is it so important to regulate your salt intake?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 70 million U.S. adults — 1 of every 3 adults — have high blood pressure. Because high blood pressure often has no symptoms, many people do not know they have it and aren’t being treated for it.
Reducing your salt intake can help lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Bauer suggests these five strategies for cutting back on salt:
- Compare sodium content on the Nutrition Facts labels when picking out foods at the grocery store, especially the salty six.
- Purchase items labeled “low sodium,” “reduced sodium” or “no salt” when available.
- Choose fresh, frozen or no-salt-added canned vegetables, and fresh poultry, seafood, pork and lean meat without sauces or seasonings — these can be sources of hidden salt.
- Eat at home more often. Cooking foods from scratch helps you control the sodium content of dishes.
- Season vegetables, grains and proteins with herbs, spices and citrus — these trigger the same taste glands as salt does, without adding sodium.
If you are concerned about your salt intake, keep a food diary for a few days and ask your doctor for a dietitian referral. A dietitian can help you find the right path to a healthier and more balanced diet.