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This Month In Diet
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Health and Fitness News

Back Off the Salt

Reduce the amount of sodium in your diet for better health.

It’s just salt. How much harm can a little do? Unfortunately, quite a bit. Just one teaspoon contains 2,325 mg of sodium. This is a problem, because adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg a day. However, the average adult gets nearly 3,400 mg a day––50 percent more than they should.

What’s the big deal about sodium and how can you cut back? Keep reading to find out.

The Risks

Your body needs some sodium for good health. Sodium is an electrolyte that helps maintain a delicate balance of fluid in your body. It also plays an important role in muscle and nerve function. When added to food, sodium adds flavor and is a natural preservative. With so many benefits, why is it considered so bad?
Your kidneys regulate how much sodium is in your body. If you’re low on sodium, the kidneys hold onto it. If you’ve got too much, the kidneys get rid of it through your urine. With excessive sodium, your kidneys can’t get rid of it fast enough. So it accumulates in your blood.

Sodium binds with water, increasing the amount of blood in your body. This makes your heart work harder and adds pressure to your arteries. The result? High blood pressure and an increased risk of kidney disease, stroke, and heart disease. In case you’ve not heard, these are all leading causes of death.

The Sources

While you may reach for the salt shaker at every meal, most sodium in your diet is likely from other sources. Processed and packaged foods are often extremely high in sodium, making it hard to monitor how much you’re actually eating.

Foods especially high in sodium include pizza, cheese, canned soups, fast food, bread, deli meats, bacon, microwave dinners, savory snacks, and condiments. Be particularly wary of soy sauce. One tablespoon contains 1,000 mg of sodium. Dairy products, vegetables, shellfish, and meat are generally safe. They naturally contain sodium, but not enough to be dangerous.

The Solution

By reducing the amount of sodium consumed, thousands of people could sidestep disease and premature death. If you don’t have high blood pressure, you may wonder what the big deal is. But beware. Your risk for high blood pressure increases as you age. Keep downing salt and that risk increases.

So what steps can help you cut back on sodium?

1. Your taste buds probably won’t notice a gradual reduction in the amount of salt you use. Take advantage of this and slowly decrease your use of salt. Or swap salt with other options. There are plenty of options: herbs, spices, and other flavorings.

2. Choose fresh, whole foods over processed foods. Processed meats and frozen meats often use sodium as a preservative. Buy fresh meat and avoid this potential salt trap. Eat fresh or frozen veggies rather than canned. Choose products labeled as low in sodium. Just watch out. Some foods claim to contain less sodium, but there’s still a lot.

3. Prepare more homemade meals. When following a recipe, purposely reduce or eliminate the salt. Use recipes designed to lower high blood pressure. And do your best to eat meals you prepare. Fast food and restaurant food is high in calories, added sugar, unhealthy fats, and—you guessed it—sodium. One entree can easily contain more sodium than you should consume in a day.

4. Be vigilant about what you’re eating. Read ingredient labels. And don’t trust your tongue. A food may not taste salty, but it can still contain sodium. As a general rule of thumb, avoid foods with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving.