Tips on How to Reduce Salt
LOW SODIUM LIFESTYLE
by Bobbie Mostyn
Salt is contributing to a U.S. health crisis and the medical
community is sounding the alarm. According to recent estimates,
Americans consume 4,000-6,000 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day
– two to three times more than the National Institutes of
Health recommended level of 2,400mg (or about 1 teaspoon salt).
There is reason for concern. Excessive sodium has been linked
to the development of high blood pressure (or hypertension). Once
developed an individual’s risk for heart attack, stroke,
kidney and other problems increases significantly.
More than 50 million Americans (one in four adults) have high
blood pressure and that number is expected to increase as our
population ages. In fact, fifty percent of people over the age
of 60 develop hypertension.
Nevertheless, there is good news. Studies show that a substantial
decrease in the amount of sodium consumed can lower blood pressure
and may even help prevent hypertension. Medical experts are now
recommending sodium reduction for everyone, not just hypertensive
Use Less Salt
Reducing one’s intake of salt is not easy. Nearly everything
we eat contains some natural sodium. Additionally, we have become
accustomed to salty foods, thanks in part to our busy lifestyles
that have increased our use of convenience and fast foods. Unfortunately,
the more salt we consume, the more we crave. It’s a vicious
cycle, but it can be modified.
Although lifestyle changes may be difficult, particularly when
it comes to eating, you can retrain your tastebuds to enjoy less
salt in about 6-8 weeks. If you start gradually, using a little
less salt each day, not only will your use of sodium decrease,
but also your craving. In fact, many foods that used to taste
good will now taste salty.
The majority of sodium in your diet comes from three main sources:
• salt added at the table and to cooking
• processed and convenience products
• restaurant and fast food meals
Tips to Reducing Salt
Eliminate the saltshaker. Don’t salt before
you taste. Break the habit of automatically reaching for the saltshaker.
Choose lower sodium foods. Eat more fruits and
vegetables and use less prepared foods (the less processing, the
less sodium). Look for foods labeled sodium free, low sodium,
reduced sodium, unsalted and no salt added.
Read the label. Know how much sodium is in each
serving. Be alert to “salty” terms, like brine,
cured, marinated, pickled and smoked. Notice serving sizes.
What is listed may be smaller than what you will actually eat.
Use less salt in cooking. In most recipes salt
can be reduced or, in many cases, omitted without compromising
the flavor. Use more herbs and spices, particularly onion and
garlic powder. Also, low-sodium bouillon can add extra flavor,
as can wine, vinegar, lemon or lime juice.
Prepare low-salt recipes. Get a good low-sodium
cookbook. Many are available at your local bookstore. Also, search
the Internet where there is an abundance of low-salt recipes.
Order low-sodium foods at restaurants. Ask how
foods are prepared and whenever possible request that no salt
be added to your entree. Find restaurants that feature “heart-healthy”
meals or will accommodate your dietary restrictions. (NOTE: “Heart-healthy”
usually indicates a menu item is low fat or low cholesterol and
may not always be low sodium.)
NOTE: Although salt and sodium are used interchangeably, there
is a difference. Sodium is a mineral that combines with chlorine
to form salt. Salt contains 40% sodium and 60% chlorine.
Become Sodium Conscious
Many people think they are not consuming a lot of salt because
they do not use it at the table or in their cooking. Although
the saltshaker contributes about 25% of the salt we consume, the
majority of it comes off the grocery shelves.
As you become more sodium conscious, you will discover disparities
among brands. For instance, some tomato pastes have as much as
440mg sodium, but others only have 100mg. They taste the same
but when you add it up, it’s 330mg less sodium.
Foods High in Sodium
Bakery items – bagels, breads, donuts and
Canned foods – soups, meats, fish, sauerkraut,
beans and vegetables
Convenience foods – frozen dinners, pizza,
cereals and packaged mixes (such as pancakes, food “helpers,”
stuffing and rice dishes)
Dairy products – cheese and cottage cheese
Deli items – bacon, luncheon meats, corned
beef, smoked meats or fish, sardines, anchovies and mayonnaise-based
salads (like cole slaw and potato salad)
Snack foods – crackers, chips and dips
Condiments – mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise,
salad dressings, pickles, olives, capers, salsas and packaged
Sauces – gravy, steak or BBQ, pasta, teriyaki
and soy sauces
Baking needs – self-rising flour, baking
and biscuit mixes, bouillon cubes, batter and coating mixes, breadcrumbs,
corn syrup, cooking wines, meat tenderizers, monosodium glutamate
(MSG), baking powder and baking soda
Beverages – tomato and vegetable juices,
Bloody Mary and chocolate drink mixes
Hidden Sources Of Sodium
There are numerous sources of sodium that you may not be aware.
Certain dentifrices, aspirin and medications that contain ibuprofen
(such as Advil and Nuprin) contain sodium, as do antacids, like
Rolaids, Alka-Seltzer and Bromo-Seltzer (some have as much as
761mg). Check labels for low-sodium alternatives or ask your pharmacist
or healthcare provider for suggestions.
Also, many households have water-softening systems that contain
sodium chloride. To remedy this, potassium chloride (potassium
replaces the salt) may be used instead. Of course, if it is still
a concern you can always drink bottled water.
Note to the Hypertensive
“High blood pressure is a time bomb in your blood vessels,
just waiting to explode in a stroke or heart attack,” says
Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition specialist at Colorado State
University Cooperative Extension. “It just keeps ticking
away, speeding the artery-clogging process until the blood vessels
Scary stuff, but there is new research that has determined diet
can have a positive effect on blood pressure. Funded by the National
Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the Dietary Approaches
to Stop Hypertension (DASH) clinical study shows that the DASH
diet not only lowers blood pressure, but may help prevent and
control hypertension. Based on 2,000 calories a day, the DASH
diet is low in fats and cholesterol and plentiful in fruits, vegetables
and low-fat dairy products.
Subsequent research (DASH-2) indicates the lower the sodium intake,
the lower the drop in blood pressure and recommends eating 1500mg
or less sodium per day.
If you are taking certain diuretics and other prescription drugs
for the treatment of hypertension, be cautious of salt substitutes.
Many contain potassium which may adversely affect your medication.
Additionally, many foods that are low in sodium also have added
potassium. Check with your healthcare provider before using salt
substitutes or consuming potassium-enhanced foods.
Other Culprits That Raise Blood Pressure
Caffeine (including coffee, tea, soft drinks,
chocolate and some medications) – may temporarily increase
Licorice – consumed in large amounts
Phenylalanine (used in sugar-free foods that
contain aspartame, such as Nutra-Sweet and Equal) – may
elevate blood pressure in sensitive individuals
Alcohol – more than 1 glass of wine or
24 oz of beer is considered excessive and may cause a rise in
Cold and cough remedies - decongestants (such
as, pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine, dextromethorphan) found
in many cough and cold medications may elevate blood pressure
Appetite suppressants - ingredients (like diethylpropion)
found in many weight reducing agents may raise blood pressure
NOTE: Diet is only one part of the prevention and treatment of
hypertension. Other factors include exercise, maintaining a healthy
weight, quitting smoking and increasing your intake of calcium
and magnesium. Before making any major changes in salt consumption
or beginning an exercise program, be sure to talk with your healthcare
Excerpted from Pocket Guide to Low Sodium Foods
by Bobbie Mostyn. Copyright © 2003 by Bobbie Mostyn. Excerpted
by arrangement with InData Publishing. All rights reserved. $7.95.
Available in local bookstores or click