Sodium occurs naturally in foods and is essential for health. It helps maintain fluid balance, transmits nerve impulses, regulates blood pressure and maintains muscle activity.
But most of the sodium in our diet comes from salt, or sodium chloride, that is added to the foods we eat. And for this reason, most people ingest too much of it. A high-sodium diet can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (approximately one teaspoon of salt) and recommends 1,500 mg or less per day for certain high-risk groups. Despite this, most Americans consume more than 4,000 mg per day. That could be because of the way we eat: Most of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods.
Tips to Kick the Salt Habit
- Read food labels and shop smarter. These words signal high salt counts: sodium, salt, pickled, smoked, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, cured, corned, brine, broth and marinated. You should also choose products with less sodium than calories per serving. And avoid the 10 foods in our list below!
- Fresh is best. Whenever possible, opt for fresh fruits, vegetable, meats, poultry and fish instead of canned varieties, which tend to have high amounts of sodium. The next best thing is frozen veggies and meats that aren’t covered in butter or salty sauces. The best ones contain less than 600 mg of sodium per serving.
- When you can’t go fresh or frozen, look for no-salt-added, no-sodium or low-sodium canned vegetables, beans, broth, soups, tuna, crackers and tomato sauce.
- Don’t add salt to your home-cooked recipes, and remove table salt from, well, the table. Add flavor with herbs and spices instead. (A common misconception is that certain gourmet salts, such as sea salt, are healthier than table salt. This is simply untrue. Sea salt packs a comparable amount of sodium per teaspoon.)
- Use half or less of the seasoning packet provided with packaged rice and pasta dishes.
- Make your own soup using low-sodium broth and tons of fresh or dried herbs, garlic and onion.
- Dining out? Go online ahead of time to check the menu’s nutrition facts. You may find that some dishes contain more than your recommended daily allowance of sodium in just one plate! And for that reason…
- Buy a heart-healthy cookbook, and limit eating out to once or twice a week.
10 Sneaky High-Sodium Foods
Marinades, barbecue sauces and ketchup are typically high in sodium. Limit the amount you use or look for low-sodium versions. Mrs. Dash makes a great marinade that can even double as a salad dressing.
2. Salad dressing.
Read labels and choose dressings with the lowest amount of sodium. Better yet, make your own by combining a little bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Italian seasoning and garlic powder.
A simple fix: Buy unsalted!
Some varieties have more than 400 mg of sodium per serving! Choose lower-sodium cereals by reading labels and comparing brands.
5. Deli meats.
Ask for low-sodium ham, turkey or chicken. Or slice your own lunch meat from whole roasted chicken, fresh ham or turkey.
6. Microwave popcorn.
Buy an air popper for your microwave (still convenient!) and season with Mrs. Dash, garlic or onion powder, or even a drizzle of honey.
Make your own salsa with fresh tomatoes, lime juice, onion, jalapeño, bell pepper and cilantro.
8. Flour tortillas.
Choose lower-sodium varieties or try corn tortillas instead.
Fizzy antacids contain sodium bicarbonate — which can cause kidney and heart malfunction if taken too often — and over 300 mg of sodium in just one tablet! Talk to your doctor about other ways to manage indigestion.
Avoid processed cheeses (good-bye, individually packaged slices!) and limit portion size.