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In Association with

Tips on How to Reduce Salt Intake


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 patients.

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 pastries
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 seasoning mixes
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 finally burst.”

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.
Salt Substitutes

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 blood pressure
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 blood pressure
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 provider.

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 here.

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