Shaking the Salt Habit to Lower High Blood Pressure

Video: Too much salt is bad for your health. Here's how to know how much of it you're eating.

Do you know the most common sources of sodium?

Cutting back on sodium can help lower your blood pressure, also known as hypertension. One way to do this is to skip the table salt. However, most sodium in our diets comes from packaged and processed foods. Eating these foods less often can:

  • Help reduce your sodium intake
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Prevent high blood pressure from developing

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. The ideal limit is no more than 1,500 per day for most adults, especially for those with high blood pressure. Cutting out just 1,000 milligrams a day can improve blood pressure and heart health.

Salt versus sodium equivalents

Table salt is about 40% sodium. It’s important to understand how much sodium is in salt so you can control how much you eat. These amounts are approximate.

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Sodium sources

Sodium can be sneaky! To control your sodium intake, check the Nutrition Facts labels and  choose lower-sodium options. Also choose fresh foods over processed foods when you can. Some foods to be aware of include:

  • Burgers
  • Burritos and tacos
  • Deli meat sandwiches
  • Egg dishes and omelets
  • Pasta mixed dishes
  • Pizza
  • Poultry
  • Savory snacks (such as chips, crackers, popcorn)
  • Soups

Also talk to your pharmacist about your medications. Some over-the-counter and prescription medications contain sodium. Learn more about how much sodium to eat daily.

man cooking with his son

Shopping and cooking

Here are some tips for reducing the amount of sodium you eat.

Shop smart, cook smart

  • Choose lower-sodium foods or low-sodium versions of your favorites. It may take some time for your taste buds to adjust to a lower-sodium diet. But there are delicious options for low-sodium meals.
  • When buying prepared and packaged foods, read the labels. Adults in the United States consume up to 70% of their sodium from processed foods such as soups, tomato sauce, condiments and canned goods. Watch for the words “soda” and “sodium” and the symbol “Na” on labels. These terms warn that products contain sodium compounds. Many canned and frozen food labels print “low salt” or “low sodium” on the packaging.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. When buying in canned or frozen form, choose the no-salt added versions. Also look for those without added sauces.
  • Choose unsalted nuts or seeds, dried beans, peas and lentils.
  • Choose unsalted or low-sodium fat-free broths, bouillons or soups.
  • Don’t add salt to dishes you are cooking.
  • Choose low-sodium canned vegetables and rinse them before using.
  • Remove the salt shaker from your table.
  • Ask your health care professional if a salt substitute is right for you. Some contain large amounts of potassium and very little sodium. Salt substitutes are not costly and may be used by most people, except those with kidney disease.
  • Use spices and herbs to add to the natural flavor of food.
  • Don’t salt food before you taste it. Enjoy the natural taste of food.
  • Follow the DASH eating plan.

Reduce sodium when dining out

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. If you love dining out, follow these tips.

  • Be familiar with low-sodium foods. Look for them on the menu.
  • 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 add black pepper.
  • Add fresh lemon juice instead of salt to season fish and vegetables.
  • Order vegetables without salt added.
  • Order fruit.
  • Limit fast food and takeout foods.

Seasoning alternatives — spice it up!

There is a rich world of creative and flavorful options other than salt. Get started with this guide to spices, herbs and flavorings and the foods they match. Get creative! Use these seasonings to add variety:

  • Allspice: Lean meats, stews, tomatoes, peaches, applesauce, cranberry sauce, gravies
  • 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
  • Curry powder: Lean meats (especially lamb), veal, chicken, fish, tomatoes, tomato soup
  • 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 meats, chicken, fish, salads, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, sauces
  • Nutmeg: Fruits, potatoes, chicken, fish, lean meatloaf, 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 meatloaf, 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

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