The World Health Organization, 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and American Heart Association all recommend eating less than a teaspoon of salt per day, however, most Americans are eating way more than that. High sodium diets can raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. If sodium intake dropped to the recommended level, an estimated 2.5 million deaths could be prevented each year.
By the numbers.
Sodium is measured in milligrams on food labels, abbreviated to mg. Here’s how that translates:
- ¼ teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
- ½ teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
- ¾ teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
So where is all this salt coming from? It’s not just from the salt shaker. About 75% comes from either processed or restaurant food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) flagged these foods as contributing to almost half of the sodium intake:
- Bread and rolls
- Cold cuts
- Meat dishes (beef stew, chili, meatloaf)
- Pasta dishes (lasagna, pasta salad)
- Hamburgers, hot dogs and submarine sandwiches
- Chips, crackers, popcorn, pretzels and other salty snacks
How much are you eating?
Most people have no idea how much salt they’re eating on a daily basis, but you can check the food labels to get an idea. Keep any eye out for other sodium-containing ingredients like sodium nitrate, sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or sodium benzoate. There’s also several sodium-related terms to be aware of:
- Salt/Sodium-Free: less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
- Very Low Sodium: 35 mg or less per serving
- Low Sodium: 140 mg or less per serving
- Reduced sodium: 25% less than the regular product
- Light in Sodium or Lightly Salted: at least 50% less than the regular product
- No-Salt-Added or Unsalted: This means no salt is added during processing, but these products may not be salt/sodium free unless stated.
Is all sodium bad?
No. Sodium is important for fluid balance as well as muscle and nerve function, however, it doesn’t take a lot to get the job done. The body only needs about 500 mg — less than ¼ teaspoon — per day to take care of business. The kidneys are also able to hang onto sodium if the body needs a little extra.
Tips to help you break up with salt:
- Check the food label and choose brands with less sodium. Remember to consider how many serving sizes you’ll be eating!
- Prepare your own food when you can. Packaged foods, frozen foods, mixes and sauces are high in sodium.
- Buy fresh food, if possible.
- Choose high-potassium foods like sweet potatoes, greens, yogurt, bananas and oranges. potassium counteracts the effects of sodium and can help lower your blood pressure.
- Rinse sodium-containing canned foods, like veggies, beans and tuna.
- Choose un-salted and no salt added canned goods, snacks and condiments.
- Cook rice and pasta without adding salt to the water.
- Taste your food before salting.
- Ask about sodium content of menu items. Since December 2015, chain restaurants with more than 20 locations are required to provide nutrition information to customers upon request.
- Use a variety of other herbs and spices to flavor up your food. Not sure how? Keep an eye out for the next blog on how to spice it up without salt!
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