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.
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.
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.
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
Choose processed, prepared and pre-packaged foods carefully. 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.
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.
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!