Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Americans eat on average about 3,400 mg of sodium per day, most dietary sodium (over 70%) comes from eating packaged and prepared foods—not from table salt added to food when cooking or eating.
Limiting salt (sodium) is an important part of a heart-healthy diet.
The American Heart Association recommends that:
- Healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon of salt)(1)
- Most adults ideally have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day
Although reducing the amount of salt you add to food at the table or while cooking is a good first step, but as we mentioned much of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed foods, such as soups, baked goods and frozen dinners. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can reduce the amount of salt you eat.
More than 40% of the sodium we eat each day comes from only 10 types of food. (2) Some of these foods are surprising because they do not taste salty. It is not surprising that canned soups, pizza and processed meats are loaded with sodium. But some foods like cheese, bread and eggs seem to be surprising. And be careful of condiments. Many packaged condiments have high levels of sodium. Knowing which foods are the biggest contributors to sodium in your diet is an important step in reducing daily sodium intake to a healthy level.
Low-salt items to choose:
- Herbs and spices
- Salt-free seasoning blends
- Canned soups or prepared meals with no added salt or reduced salt
- Reduced-salt versions of condiments, such as reduced-salt soy sauce and reduced-salt ketchup
On most foods, there is a Nutrition Facts label. This will tell you how much sodium is in one serving of food. Look at both the serving size and determine the amount. The serving size is located at the top of the label, usually right under the “Nutrition Facts” title. The amount of sodium is given in the list under the title. It is given in milligrams (mg). Check the serving size carefully. A single serving is often very small, and you may eat more than one serving. If this is the case, you will eat more than listed on the label.
If you like the convenience of canned soups and prepared meals, look for ones with no added salt or reduced sodium. Be wary of foods that claim to be lower in sodium because they are seasoned with sea salt instead of regular table salt.
However sea salt has the same nutritional value as regular salt. Sea salt is a general term for salt that is produced by evaporating ocean water or water from saltwater lakes. It is less processed than table salt and retains trace minerals. These minerals add flavor and color. But sea salt and table salt have the same basic nutritional value. Sea salt and table salt contain comparable amounts of sodium by weight.
Another way to reduce the amount of salt you eat is to choose your condiments carefully. Many condiments are available in reduced-sodium versions, and salt substitutes can add flavor to your food with less sodium.
Five Popular Sodium Substitutes:
Lemons and lemon juice as an alternative to salt is a great way to brighten up the flavor of your food. Lemon juice pairs well with chicken, fish, vegetables, and even yogurt and desserts. Want even more lemony flavor? Just sprinkle on some lemon zest. And if you really love a lemony flavor, add lemon juice or zest to your marinades.
Garlic is another sodium free salt substitute. It works well when making marinades or stir- fries. In addition to being sodium free, garlic offers additional health benefits.
Paprika is versatile and mellow ingredient, bringing beautiful color and a hint of sweetness. Use paprika to add flavor and vivid red color to pretty much any dish. It works great with lighter colored foods such as potato salad and deviled eggs and and it can be used with meat, poultry, and fish.
Cumin: is another exotic spice for most Americans. A member of the parsley family, cumin is a dried seed that is sold in whole and ground forms. Used in North African, Arabic, Asian, Mexican and many other cuisines, cumin adds a warm, earthy flavor to food.
Cayenne peppers, like other spicy peppers, have capsaicin, the compound that gives them their “heat”. Based on animal studies, capsaicin may help to reduce high blood pressure, (3) an added plus for adding this as a spice to your diet.
Substituting salt and sodium-containing seasonings with herbs, spices and low-sodium condiments can help to reduce the amount of sodium that we use when cooking at home.