Salt Awareness

Nine out of 10 Americans eat too much salt. While our bodies need salt to survive, the average healthy person needs only about 1,200 – 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. Americans are getting much more, closer to 4,000 mg per day. To put these amounts into perspective, one teaspoon of salt contains about 2,000 mg of sodium. Why are we eating so much salt? Almost 80% of the sodium we eat comes from processed, packaged and restaurant foods. Consider that almost anything you buy at the supermarket that comes in a bag, a can, a box, a bottle, etc. mostly likely has salt in it. These items all add up. If we eat meals from restaurants, the amount of salt we get quickly adds up even more.

Salt and Pepper
Salt and Pepper / Brandon Grasley / CC BY 2.0

We know that eating less salt can help to reduce blood pressure in both children and adults. High blood pressure or hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke and more and more children and adolescents are being diagnosed with hypertension. Due to this, sodium is the number one food component to reduce in our diets, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. The key recommendation is to reduce sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day and to further reduce intake to 1,500 mg per day for people who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. This amounts to about half of the United States population, including children over the age of 2 and adults, who can experience a health benefit by reducing their daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg.

With the widespread use of salt in both processed and restaurant foods, it can seem nearly impossible to reduce the amount of sodium we eat to 2,300 mg per day, never mind the 1,500 mg per day recommended for half of all people in the United States! Even though we seem to like the taste of salt in our foods, the good news is that we can get used to the taste of less salt and may not even notice small, gradual changes. Here are some immediate ways to get less salt in your diet:

Eat whole, fresh foods including:

fruits and vegetables

fat-free and low-fat milk and dairy foods

whole grain foods

fish, poultry and lean meats

nuts, seeds, dried beans and legumes

liquid oils such as olive and canola

While shopping, use the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods to compare the amount of sodium and choose those lower in sodium.

When eating at restaurants, ask two things:

that no salt be added to your menu items, and

for lower sodium menu items

Use Guiding Stars’ Food Finder – Foods and beverages with Guiding Stars follow the highest scientific recommendations for sodium and are the most nutritious.

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