Salt is composed primarily of sodium (about 40 percent) and chlorine (about 60 percent). Sodium is an essential mineral your body needs to function properly. It helps your nerves and muscles work and balances the fluids in your body. To perform these functions, our bodies need about 500 milligrams of salt per day. The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams, which is much more than needed.
High-sodium diets are linked to an increase in blood pressure and a higher risk for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Some people's bodies react to sodium more than others do, causing them to retain water more easily. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day for most people.
One teaspoon of salt has 2,325 milligrams of sodium. It’s good to stop shaking salt onto your food at the table, but that’s not the only way sodium finds a way into your dinner. Most processed and prepared foods are already loaded with sodium. It’s these foods that add the most sodium to your diet, over 75 percent. Processed and prepared foods include baked goods, condiments, pasta sauces, frozen dinners, rice mixes, pizza, cold cuts, sausage, bacon, cheese, soups, salad dressings and fast foods. When you get into the habit of checking labels, you’ll be surprised by all of the places sodium shows up!
Some foods like vegetables, dairy products and meat naturally contain small amounts sodium. Eating these foods likely gives you all you need.
Is sea salt better for you? In a survey conducted by the American Heart Association, 61 percent of respondents incorrectly agreed that sea salt is a low-sodium alternative to table salt. By weight, kosher salt and most sea salt are chemically the same as table salt (40 percent sodium.) Gourmets may prefer sea salt for its taste, texture and color, but its sodium level is the same as table salt.
Article copyright © 2011 American Heart Association. This article is brought to you by the American Heart Association’s Simple Cooking with Heart Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit heart.org/simplecooking.