Shaking the Salt Habit

Updated:Apr 10,2014

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Some say that salt is the favorite ingredient of Americans, and many have acquired a taste for a high salt diet. One way to cut back is to skip the table salt. However, most sodium in the diet comes from packaged, processed foods. Eating these foods less often can reduce your intake of sodium and can help lower your blood pressure or prevent HBP from developing in the first place.

Woman Refusing Salt

In some people, sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, placing an added burden on the heart. If your blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg or above, your doctor may recommend a low-salt diet or advise you to avoid salt altogether.

 

AHA Recommendation

The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1500 mg of sodium a day.

 

Print our handy sodium tracker to help you keep tabs on your daily intake.


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Salt vs. Sodium Equivalents

Sodium chloride or table salt is approximately 40% sodium. Understand just how much sodium is in salt so you can take measures to control your intake.

1/4 teaspoon salt = 600 mg sodium
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,200 mg sodium
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,800 mg sodium
1 teaspoon salt = 2,400 mg sodium

 
Take the Sodium Quiz to see how much you know about how your sodium intake can impact your health.

Sodium Sources

Sodium can be sneaky! Taking control of your sodium means checking labels and reducing preservatives.
  • Processed foods
    Americans consume up to 75 percent of their sodium from processed foods like tomato sauce, soups, condiments, canned foods and prepared mixes. When buying prepared and prepackaged foods, read the labels. Many different sodium compounds are added to foods. These are listed on food labels. Watch for the words "soda" and "sodium" and the symbol "Na" on labels; these words show that sodium compounds are present. The American Heart Association is working with federal agencies to identify strategies to reduce the amount of sodium in the food supply. AHA is also encouraging food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the amount of sodium in foods by 50 percent over a 10-year period.
  • Natural foods
    Most food contains some sodium in its natural state. Natural foods such as cheeses, seafood, olives and some legumes may have a higher-than-expected sodium content.
  • Table salt and Sea Salt (sodium chloride)
    Used in cooking, seasoning at the table, canning and preserving.
  • Some over-the-counter drugs
    Some over-the-counter medications contain high levels of sodium. Carefully read the labels before buying an over-the-counter drug. Look at the ingredients list and warning statements to see if they mention sodium. A statement of sodium content must appear on labels of antacids containing 5 mg or more per dosage unit (table or teaspoon). Some companies produce low-sodium, over-the-counter products. If in doubt, ask a healthcare professional.
  • Some prescription medications
    Consumers can't tell by looking at a bottle whether a prescription drug contains sodium. If you have HBP, ask your physician or pharmacist about the sodium content of prescription medications. Regardless, NEVER stop taking your prescribed medication without first checking with your doctor.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    Used in home, restaurant and hotel cooking and in many packaged, canned and frozen foods as a seasoning.
  • Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
    Sometimes used to leaven breads and cakes; sometimes added to vegetables in cooking; used as alkalizer for indigestion. 1 teaspoon of baking soda = 1,000 mg sodium
  • Baking powder
    Used to leaven quick breads and cakes.
  • Disodium phosphate
    Found in some quick-cooking cereals and processed cheeses.
  • Sodium alginate
    Used in many chocolate milks and ice creams to make a smooth mixture.
  • Sodium benzoate
    Used as a preservative in many condiments such as relishes, sauces and salad dressings.
  • Sodium hydroxide
    Used in food processing to soften and loosen skins of ripe olives and certain fruits and vegetables.
  • Sodium nitrite
    Used in cured meats and sausages.
  • Sodium propionate
    Used in pasteurized cheese and in some breads and cakes to inhibit growth of molds.
  • Sodium sulfite
    Used to bleach certain fruits such as maraschino cherries and glazed or crystallized fruits that are to be artificially colored; also used as a preservative in some dried fruits such as prunes.
  • The Salty Six: Are the foods you eat most often high in sodium? Our list may surprise you.

Shopping and Cooking

From the grocery aisles to your dinner table, here are some tips for reducing the amount of sodium that finds its way into your body.

Shop smart, cook smart

  • Avoid processed, prepared and pre-packaged foods.
    Americans consume up to 75 percent of their sodium from these food sources. Examples include soups, tomato sauce, condiments, canned goods, preserved meats and prepared mixes.
  • Choose lower-sodium foods or low-sodium versions of your favorites.
    Although it may take some time for your taste buds to adjust to a lower sodium diet, there are delicious options for very flavorful, low-sodium meals. Once the adjustment to healthier dining is made, many people report they would not choose to go back to the highly processed sodium rich foods.
  • Read your food labels.
    When buying pre-packaged foods, read the labels. Many different sodium compounds are added to foods, and they are listed on food labels. Watch for the words "soda" and "sodium" and the symbol "Na" on labels, which warn you that these products contain sodium compounds. Many canned and frozen food labels help the consumer by printing "low salt" or "low sodium" boldly on the packaging.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
    When buying canned or frozen varieties, be sure to choose the no-salt added versions, and look for the choices without added sauces.
  • Use fruit and raw vegetables as snacks.
    These are a heart-healthy alternative to chips and salted nuts.
  • Select unsalted nuts or seeds, dried beans, peas and lentils.
  • Select unsalted or low-sodium fat-free broths, bouillons or soups.
  • Avoid adding salt and canned vegetables with added salt to homemade dishes.
  • Don't use salt during cooking.
    Certain salt substitutes contain a large amount of potassium and very little sodium. They are not expensive and may be used freely by most people, except those with kidney disease. Talk with your healthcare professional about whether a salt substitute is right for you.
  • Learn to use spices and herbs to enhance the natural flavor of food.
    Ditch salt for healthier, delicious salt-free seasoning alternatives.
  • Don't salt food before you taste it; enjoy the natural taste of food.
  • Take the salt shaker off the table.
    Adding more salt at the table adds to your daily sodium intake without adding much to the flavor of your food.
  • Eat less salted potato and corn chips, lunchmeat, hot dogs, salt pork, ham hocks, dill pickles and many canned foods.
    All of these foods have a lot of salt.
  • Follow the D.A.S.H. eating plan.
     

Reduce Sodium When Dining Out

Americans eat more restaurant-prepared meals now than ever, and restaurant food is often high in sodium. But controlling your sodium intake doesn't have to spoil the pleasure of dining out. It just means adopting new habits into your current lifestyle. So if you love dining out, follow these tips.

When dining out:

  • Be familiar with low-sodium foods and look for them on the menu.
  • When ordering, be specific about what you want and how you want it prepared. Request that your dish be prepared without salt.
  • Don't use the salt shaker. Instead, use the pepper shaker or mill.
  • Add fresh lemon juice instead of salt to season fish and vegetables.
Learn more Tips for Dining Out.

Seasoning Alternatives - Spice it up!

There is a rich world of creative and flavorful alternatives to salt. Get started with this guide to spices, herbs and flavorings and the food items with which they are a particularly good flavor match. Then get creative and experiment!

Here are some seasonings to add variety:

    Allspice: Lean ground meats, stews, tomatoes, peaches, applesauce, cranberry sauce, gravies, lean meat
  • Almond extract: Puddings, fruits
  • Basil: Fish, lamb, lean ground meats, stews, salads, soups, sauces, fish cocktails
  • Bay leaves: Lean meats, stews, poultry, soups, tomatoes
  • Caraway seeds: Lean meats, stews, soups, salads, breads, cabbage, asparagus, noodles
  • Chives: Salads, sauces, soups, lean meat dishes, vegetables
  • Cider vinegar: Salads, vegetables, sauces
  • Cinnamon: Fruits (especially apples), breads, pie crusts
  • Curry powder: Lean meats (especially lamb), veal, chicken, fish, tomatoes, tomato soup, mayonnaise
  • Dill: Fish sauces, soups, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, cucumbers, potatoes, salads, macaroni, lean beef, lamb, chicken, fish
  • Garlic (not garlic salt): Lean meats, fish, soups, salads, vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes
  • Ginger: Chicken, fruits
  • Lemon juice: Lean meats, fish, poultry, salads, vegetables
  • Mace: Hot breads, apples, fruit salads, carrots, cauliflower, squash, potatoes, veal, lamb
  • Mustard (dry): Lean ground meats, lean meats, chicken, fish, salads, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mayonnaise, sauces
  • Nutmeg: Fruits, pie crust, lemonade, potatoes, chicken, fish, lean meat loaf, toast, veal, pudding
  • Onion powder (not onion salt): Lean meats, stews, vegetables, salads, soups
  • Paprika: Lean meats, fish, soups, salads, sauces, vegetables
  • Parsley: Lean meats, fish, soups, salads, sauces, vegetables
  • Peppermint extract: Puddings, fruits
  • Pimiento: Salads, vegetables, casserole dishes
  • Rosemary: Chicken, veal, lean meat loaf, lean beef, lean pork, sauces, stuffings, potatoes, peas, lima beans
  • Sage: Lean meats, stews, biscuits, tomatoes, green beans, fish, lima beans, onions, lean pork
  • Savory: Salads, lean pork, lean ground meats, soups, green beans, squash, tomatoes, lima beans, peas
  • Thyme: Lean meats (especially veal and lean pork), sauces, soups, onions, peas, tomatoes, salads
  • Turmeric: Lean meats, fish, sauces, rice

Free Recipes

You won't miss the salt when you taste these dishes.

These recipes are brought to you exclusively online by the American Heart Association's Patient Education program.

 For a taste of healthy dining try:
For more than 200 scrumptious low-sodium recipes, order the American Heart Association Low-Salt Cookbook.


This content was last reviewed on 04/04/2012.