If you’re like most Americans, you’re getting too much salt in your diet. In fact, 9 out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium, says the American Heart Association (AHA). According to the Food and Drug Administration, the average American adult consumes an average of 3,400 milligrams, or roughly 1.5 teaspoons, of salt daily.
The federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. The AHA recommends even less for ideal heart health, at 1,500 milligrams per day.
Your body needs sodium to function properly
Sodium helps your body keep fluids in balance and plays a key role in normal nerve and muscle function.
Your kidneys balance the amount of sodium in your body. They hold onto sodium when sodium in your body is low and release sodium in your urine when levels are high. If your kidneys cannot eliminate enough sodium, it builds up in your blood. Sodium attracts and holds water, causing your blood volume to increase. This makes your heart work harder to pump blood, which increases pressure on your arteries. Over time, this can raise your risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
And for reasons unknown, salt affects people differently. Some men and women can consume sodium with no effect on their blood pressure. However, “salt-sensitive” individuals retain sodium more easily, which can lead to fluid retention and high blood pressure.
The Mayo Clinic reports salt sensitivity is most prevalent among people who are middle-aged or elderly, overweight or obese, and African-American. It also tends to become more prevalent as we age.
While keeping sodium intake levels in check is important for everyone, it is particularly imperative for people with high blood pressure (hypertension). Research has shown that reduced sodium intake reduces blood pressure as well as cardiovascular risk.
Tips for reducing sodium in your diet
- Limit packaged and prepared foods. To the dismay of many, over 70% of dietary sodium comes from eating packaged and prepared foods — not from shaking salt on your meal or adding salt to your food while cooking. Cut back on options like fast food, salty snack foods, frozen dinners (including pizza), baking mixes and boxed meals as much as possible.
- Read the label. As obvious as it seems, you should always check the Nutrition Facts label before consuming foods to ensure you’re getting less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
- Choose fresh foods whenever possible. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Also, fresh or frozen meat and poultry, such as chicken, turkey, beef or pork, are lower in sodium than items like deli meats, sausage and ham. Be sure to purchase meat that hasn't been injected with a sodium-containing solution — check the label or ask the butcher.
- Reduce your portions. The less food you eat, the less sodium you consume. Particularly when eating out, try to choose low-sodium options, and limit the size of your meal. In many cases, portions at restaurants are too much for one and plenty for two.
- Pay attention to condiments. Many popular condiments add to your daily sodium intake — including soy sauce, salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard and relish. Opt for light or reduced sodium condiments whenever possible.
- Add flavor with spices and herbs. Skip the salt shaker and add flavor to your meals with herbs, such as basil, oregano and cilantro, and delightful spices like garlic, smoked paprika and cumin. There’s a whole world of tastes to explore that are not salt!