Shake Your Salt Habit
The average American consumes about 6 to 18 grams of salt daily. That’s
roughly one to three teaspoonfuls. Your body actually needs only about 0.5 grams
of salt (0.2 grams [200 mg] sodium [Na]) each day. Reducing the amount of sodium
you consume may help you reduce or avoid high blood pressure. That’s important
because people with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease
and stroke. These diseases are the No. 1 and No. 3 killers in the United States
Heart Association sodium recommendations:
Healthy American adults should reduce their sodium intake to no more than
2300 mgs per day. This is about 1 teaspoon of sodium chloride (salt). To
illustrate, the following are sodium equivalents in the diet:
teaspoon salt = 600 mg sodium
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1200 mg
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1800 mg sodium
1 teaspoon salt =
2400 mg sodium
1 teaspoon baking soda = 1000 mg sodium
Most foods in their natural state contain sodium. But most sodium in our diet
is added to food while it’s being commercially processed or prepared at home.
That’s why you need to be aware of both natural and added sodium content when
you choose foods to lower your sodium intake. 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
Sodium compounds to
• Salt (sodium chloride) — Used in cooking or at the table; used in
canning and preserving.
• Monosodium glutamate (also called MSG) — A
seasoning used in home, restaurant and hotel cooking and in many packaged,
canned and frozen foods.
• Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) — Sometimes
used to leaven breads and cakes; sometimes added to vegetables in cooking; used
as alkalizer for indigestion.
• Baking powder — Used to leaven quick
breads and cakes.
Other sodium compounds
• Disodium phosphate — Found in some quick-cooking cereals and processed
• 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.
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.
Eating out with
Americans are eating more meals away from home than ever before. Controlling
your sodium intake doesn’t need to spoil the pleasure of a restaurant meal, but
order selectively. Consider these tips for meals away from home:
• Don’t use the salt shaker. Use the pepper shaker or mill.
familiar with low-sodium foods and look for them on restaurant
• When you order, be specific about what you want and how you
want your food prepared. Request that they prepare your dish without
• Add fresh lemon juice to fish and vegetables instead of
Look for the sodium content
Over-the-counter drugs — Some over-the-counter drugs contain lots of sodium.
Make a habit of carefully reading the labels of all over-the-counter drugs. Look
at the ingredients list and warning statements to see if sodium is listed. A
statement of sodium content must appear on labels of antacids containing 5
milligrams or more per dosage unit (tablet, teaspoon). Some companies produce
low-sodium over-the-counter products. If in doubt, ask your physician or
pharmacist if the drug is OK for you.
Prescription drugs — Consumers can’t know whether a prescription drug
contains sodium. If you have high blood pressure, ask your physician or
pharmacist about the sodium content of prescription drugs. NEVER stop taking
your medication without checking with your doctor.
American Heart Association