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Consuming Less Salt for a Healthier Diet

Many foods naturally contain sodium, albeit usually in tiny amounts. Although some people add salt to their food at the table, most sodium in the U.S. diet comes from foods to which salt has been added during preparation or processing. Many foods that are high in sodium don’t taste salty, so beware.

Salt is chemically known as sodium chloride. Although sodium accounts for only part of table salt, most people use the words salt and sodium interchangeably.

Sodium plays an important role in the body, helping to regulate fluids and blood pressure. But if you consume too much salt, you may need more calcium, because the excess salt may cause your body to excrete calcium in your urine.

Keep the following tips in mind when trying to consume less sodium in your diet:

  • Limit the amount of salt you add to foods during cooking and at the table. Measure the amount you use so that you don’t overdo. A sprinkle here and a sprinkle there can add up quickly. Remember: Taste before you shake.

  • Season with spices, herbs, fruit juices, and vinegars rather than salt to heighten the flavor of your food.

  • Gradually cut back on the amount of sodium that you consume. It takes about two weeks for your palate to get accustomed to the reduced amount — but your taste for salty foods will change.

  • Use fresh and plain frozen vegetables. Not only are they lower in sodium than vegetables in sauce, but they’re generally lower in calories, too.

  • When selecting canned foods, select those labeled without salt, low-sodium, or reduced-sodium. Or with regular canned beans or vegetables, rinse before preparing.

  • Many frozen dinners, packaged mixes, canned soups, and salad dressings also contain considerable amounts of sodium. Again, choose low- or reduced-sodium versions when possible.

  • Use condiments, such as soy and other sauces, pickles, olives, ketchup, and mustard in moderation. They’re high in sodium.

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are a lower-sodium (and lower-calorie) alternative to salted snack foods, and they still provide the “crunch” factor.

  • If you eat out frequently, be sodium-conscious. Request that foods be prepared without added salt; ask for sauces and dressings on the side; and pay attention to the terms that signal a high-sodium content: smoked, pickled, au jus, soy sauce, or in broth.

Many studies have shown that eating plenty of sodium is associated with high blood pressure. Sodium doesn’t cause high blood pressure any more than sugar causes diabetes, but research indicates that people at risk for high blood pressure — because it runs in their families — may reduce their chances of developing this condition by consuming less sodium.

Other ways to decrease high blood pressure include losing excess weight if you’re overweight, eating enough fruits and vegetables for adequate potassium, getting sufficient calcium through lowfat and fat-free dairy products, and keeping alcohol consumption moderate to low.

The Nutrition Facts Label lists a Daily Value of 2,400 milligrams per day for sodium. Just 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium — almost your entire day’s allowance!

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