Tips for Shaking the Salt Habit

March 25, 2008

The American Medical Association (AMA) wants to you eat less salt. In fact, they ranked it out of 10 health-centered resolutions for 2008.

The AMA suggests limiting salt intake to one teaspoon per day (2,300 mg) or half a teaspoon (1,150 mg) if over the age of 50. It is estimated that most Americans consume 2-4 times that amount.

Excess salt is often linked to high blood pressure (hypertension), which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, in 2004 alone, high blood pressure killed nearly 58,000 Americans.

According to a survey by the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD) conducted in January 2008, most American adults say they are knowledgeable about high blood pressure, yet less than 50% know that it is associated with heart attack and stroke.

While some risk factors for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke cannot be changed such as gender, race, age, or family history, there are lifestyle choices that can decrease your risk: maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, and reducing sodium intake.

Limiting sodium intake can be challenging, especially if you eat out frequently or buy a lot of processed foods. It takes the brain 3-4 weeks to develop a habit, so be patient, and try the following tips to reduce your sodium intake and improve your health. Your heart will thank you for it.

High Sodium Foods to Avoid

Processed foods including:

deli meats and hot dogs

frozen dinners, packaged meals, and canned soups

salad dressings, bottled sauces, and salsas

seasoning packets (as in rice, chili, or soup mixes)

prepared mixes (such as cake or muffin mixes)

snack foods (such as pretzels, potato chips, and popcorn)

breakfast cereals and breads

Restaurant foods: not just fast-food places, all restaurant foods tend to be high in sodium.

Medications: Many headache and heartburn medications have high amounts of sodium, so talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Tips for reducing sodium in your diet:

Choose fresh food over processed foods. In other words, eat more foods that come from the ground than from a box or a can.

Buy canned and frozen fruits and vegetables that are labeled “no salt added.”

Buy “low-sodium” or “sodium free” soups, broths, dressings, and sauces.

Season foods with fresh herbs, spices, lemon and lime juice, and quality oils and vinegars.

Select “low-fat” and “low-sodium” versions of cheese, yogurt, and milk.

Buy “lite salt” instead of regular salt.

Don’t place the salt shaker on the table during meal times.

When dining out, request low-sodium meals and ask how food is prepared before ordering.