A month to change your heart: Day 26

Americans love salt. We enjoy it on potato chips, pretzels, popcorn and fries.  If it doesn’t come on our food, we add it, many of us without even tasting our food to decide if it needs additional seasoning. 

  • The average American consumes about 3600 mg of sodium per day. 
  • The American Heart Association recommends about 1500 mg per day. 
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
  • Sodium chloride or table salt is approximately 40% sodium.

Some of you reading this, the virtuous ones, are saying, “Not me, I never add salt”.   Even those of us who abstain from the salt shaker are probably getting too much salt or sodium because about 75% of the sodium in our diet is already in our food when we buy it. 

The American Heart Association has created a list of foods that they call, “The Salty Six”.   This is a list of foods that contribute the most sodium to our diet.  Most of the foods on the list don’t even taste salty. 

The Salty Six:

  • Breads and rolls
  • Cold cuts and cured meats
  • Pizza
  • Poultry
  • Soup
  • Sandwiches 

Extra sodium in our diet can lead to excess fluid in our bloodstream.  This increase in volume means that there is more work for your heart and extra pressure on your blood vessels which can eventually lead to high blood pressure and other heart and stroke related issues. 

Important medical reasons aside, extra salt is also not good for your appearance.  When you retain water, your face can look puffy, you can get bags under your eyes and extra salt in your diet can make your clothes look and feel too tight. 

Do not be fooled by the false statement that sea salt is a much more heart healthy choice than table salt.  They contain the same amount of sodium.  Because table salt is ground so finely, more of it fits into a teaspoon than the larger grains of sea salt, so it is possible that if you are using sea salt and measuring by the teaspoon, you might use a little less.  If you compare them by weight, the sodium content is about the same.

A large percentage of our sodium intake comes from packaged and prepared foods. When buying prepared and prepackaged foods, read the labels. Sodium is listed on the nutrition label, right under cholesterol.  Watch for the words "soda" and "sodium" and the symbol "Na" on labels; these words show that sodium compounds are present.   Salt, sodium benzoate, disodium or monosodium glutamate (MSG) are all words that mean additional sodium. 

So, what should we do?  How can we change our diet to decrease the sodium in our diet while still enjoying the foods that we love?  There are several simple steps that will help you to lower your sodium intake.

  1. Do not use salt at the table or in the cooking.
  2. Avoid foods that actually have salt on them such as potato chips, pretzels and popcorn
  3. Stay away from foods in a can.  Use only fresh or frozen vegetables and look for other foods packaged in a box.  Tomato sauces, soup, beans and other foods we usually find in a can, are now available in boxes which are much lower in sodium. 
  4. Avoid processed foods: frozen dinners, commercial baked goods, canned soups
  5. Eat as many meals as possible from your own kitchen; sugar, salt and fat taste really good.  Restaurants want you to come back, so they use an abundance of these delicious ingredients to lure you back for more. 

Consider adding foods that are high in potassium to your diet. This is a critically important step.  Potassium in foods will decrease the effects of sodium.  The recommended daily intake of potassium for an average adult is about 4700 milligrams per day.  We only take in about 2600 milligrams a day.  If you consume more potassium in your diet than sodium, you will begin to lower your blood pressure through diet alone.   

Foods that are high in potassium include fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and beans.  If you increase these in your diet, and work to lower the sodium in the foods you are eating, you can have a major impact on your blood pressure. 

FOOD

PORTION

POTASSIUM (mg.)

Salmon

6 ounce fillet

700

Spinach

1 cup

839

Yogurt

1 cup

531

Banana

1 medium

537

Baked potato

1 medium

1080

Sweet potato

1 medium

790

Black beans

1 cup

611

Lentils

1 cup

737

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