I’m sure you’ve been told once or twice to put down the salt shaker, right?! Especially if you have a history of hypertension, diabetes or stroke.
While the salt shaker can be a cause of too much sodium in your diet, the truth is that about 75% of dietary sodium comes from processed prepackaged foods and restaurant foods.
Most Americans eat too much salt every day, and as I mentioned before, from prepackaged foods and restaurant meals.
Not only is the sodium a concern, but often the meals highest in sodium may lead to weight gain overtime.
So now what?
Good question! I’m going to help you make better decisions about your food choices so you can lower your salt intake.
Do you know how much sodium you should be having per day?
Don’t you dare say zero. We really do NEED salt. It’s an essential mineral that our body needs in order to stay healthy. But just like anything else, too much is not good for us.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day. That’s about one teaspoon.
If you have diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, pre-hypertension or stroke risks it’s best to keep your sodium intake to less than 1500 mg per day.
Keep in mind that these are upper limits, and less is usually best, especially if you’re sensitive to the effects of sodium.
Sodium: What are the major dietary sources?
I read that the average American gets about 5,000 mg of sodium a day — much more than recommended. Here are the main sources of sodium in a typical diet:
- Processed and prepared foods. The vast majority of sodium in the typical American diet comes from foods that are processed and prepared. These foods are typically high in salt and additives that contain sodium. Processed foods include bread, pizza, cold cuts and bacon, cheese, soups, fast foods, and prepared dinners, such as pasta, meat and egg dishes.
- Natural sources. Some foods naturally contain sodium. These include all vegetables and dairy products, meat, and shellfish. While they don’t have an abundance of sodium, eating these foods does add to your overall body sodium content. For example, 1 cup (237 milliliters) of low-fat milk has about 100 mg of sodium.
- In the kitchen and at the table. Many recipes call for salt, and many people also salt their food at the table. Condiments also may contain sodium. One tablespoon (15 milliliters) of soy sauce, for example, has about 1,000 mg of sodium.
What should you do next?
Educate yourself! Here are my 10 easy tips for reducing sodium intake:
#1: Read the Nutrition Facts Label
Read the Nutrition Facts Label to see how much sodium is in foods and beverages. Most people should consume less than 2400 mg of sodium each day (or 1500 mg if you have a history of hypertension, diabetes or stroke). Check the label to compare sodium in different brands of foods and beverages and choose those lower in sodium.
—> TIP: aim for 400-500 mg of sodium per meal (3 meals per day) and 100-150 mg of sodium per snack (1-2 snacks per day). Ignore the percentages on the side of the nutrition facts label.
#2: Prepare your own food when you can
Limit packaged sauces, mixes, and “instant” products (including flavored rice, instant noodles, and ready-made pasta). When you make your own food you have 100% control of your ingredients.
#3: Add flavor without adding sodium
I highly recommend avoiding salt in recipes except for baking (there are no substitutions with baking). Try no-salt seasoning blends and herbs and spices instead of salt to add flavor to your food.
#4: Fresh meat is best
Choose fresh ORGANIC meat, poultry, and seafood, rather than processed varieties. Also, check the package on fresh meat and poultry to see if salt water or saline has been added. Avoid processed meats like bacon, ham, sausage, pepperoni, hot dogs, salami and other deli meats. Aim for low-sodium deli meats and choose turkey or chicken more often.
#5: Watch your veggies
Buy fresh, frozen (no sauce or seasoning), or low sodium or no-salt-added canned vegetables.
#6: Give sodium the “rinse”
Rinse sodium-containing canned foods, such as beans and vegetables before eating. This removes about 50% of the sodium.
#7: “Unsalt” your snacks
Choose no-salt-added nuts, seeds, and snack products. Even better choose vegetables more often, such as carrot and celery sticks with unsalted nut butter.
#8: Consider your condiments
Sodium in condiments can add up. Choose light or reduced sodium condiments, add oil and vinegar to salads rather than bottled dressings.
#9: Reduce your portion size
Less food means less sodium. Prepare smaller portions at home and consume less when eating out — choose smaller sizes, split an entrée with a friend, or take home part of your meal.
#10: Make lower-sodium choices at restaurants
Ask for your meal to be prepared without salt and request that sauces and salad dressings be served “on the side,” then use less of them. Avoid fried foods as these are laden with salt.
Learning about sodium in foods and exploring new ways to prepare foods can help you achieve your sodium goal. And, if you follow these tips to reduce the amount of sodium you consume, your “taste” for sodium will gradually decrease over time – so eventually, you may not even miss it!