Do You Know Where Salt Is Hiding in Your Food?

From our favorite pretzels to our daily sandwiches, salt is in almost everything we eat. But how much is too much?

Studies show that cutting down on sodium in your diet can lower blood pressure — reducing your risk of stroke, heart failure and other health problems, says hypertension specialist George Thomas, MD.

The American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. People with certain medical conditions should consume even less.

Is sea salt healthier?

Sea salt is generally marketed as a “natural” and “healthier” alternative.

The main differences between sea salt and table salt are in taste, texture and processing. Sea salt has a stronger flavor. However, what people should remember is that both sea salt and table salt have the same amount of sodium by weight.

According to the AHA, a teaspoon of table salt has about 2,300 mg of sodium while a teaspoon of sea salt may have less sodium only because fewer salt crystals fit on the spoon.

“When it comes down to it, sea salt doesn’t offer any health advantages over regular table salt,” says Dr. Thomas.

Should I just stop using the salt shaker?

It does help to avoid adding salt to your food at the table, but unfortunately, a major part of the sodium in American diets — more than 70% — comes from processed and packaged foods. These foods can be high in sodium even if they don’t taste salty.

Processed foods include:

  • Frozen meals.
  • Canned or pickled foods.
  • Snack foods.
  • Deli meat.
  • Cheese.
  • Condiments, sauces and dressings.
  • Breads.
  • Cereals.
  • Soda (including diet soda).

Checking labels is the only way to know how much sodium is in your food. If you buy packaged or processed foods, choose foods that are labeled sodium-free or very low sodium.

“Remember that the amount of sodium listed on the ingredient label references a particular serving size,” says Dr. Thomas. “If you eat more than the listed serving size, you’ll consume more sodium.”

How much sodium is in popular foods?

The AHA has a list of six popular foods with high sodium content dubbed the “Salty Six”:

  1. Breads and rolls: Each piece can have up to 230 mg of sodium.
  2. Pizza: One slice can have up to 760 mg of sodium.
  3. Cold cuts and cured meats: Two slices of bologna has 578 mg of sodium.
  4. Poultry: Especially chicken nuggets. Just 3 ounces have nearly 600 mg of sodium.
  5. Canned soups: One cup of canned chicken noodle soup can have up to 940 mg of sodium.
  6. Sandwiches: Consider the bread, cured meats, processed cheese and condiments can easily surpass 1,500 mg of sodium.

When making plans to your favorite restaurant, sometimes the restaurant will add their menu’s nutritional values on their website. If possible, take a look before you go. This can help you make a decision based on how much sodium is in your meal of choice.

Try the DASH diet for high blood pressure

If you have high blood pressure, the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a low-sodium intervention. All the foods you would eat are low in fat.

The diet calls for four to five servings of fruit, four to five servings of vegetables, and two to three servings of low-fat dairy. It’s also rich in whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts – while also limiting sugar and red meats.

Work with your doctor or dietitian to figure out a meal plan for you with the DASH diet.

It is possible to train your taste buds to eat less salt. You may not like eating food without sodium at first, but your taste buds will adjust over time.

“Try using natural substitutes like lemon, ginger, curry, dried herbs (such as bay leaves, basil and rosemary), onion, garlic and dry mustard,” says Dr. Thomas. “You might also use salt substitutes, but check with your doctor first.”

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