Summer 2012
Cutting Back on Sodium for Heart Health

To find the amount of sodium in packaged foods, read the Nutrition Facts label. The American Heart Association recommends you consume fewer than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

If your food comes in a bag, box or can, or if you have to use a drive-through to get it, chances are it is loaded with sodium (salt). Most of us consume 5 to 10 times more sodium in our diets than what is recommended by the USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The problem with our national love of salt is that over time excessive sodium can lead to a rise in blood pressure, which increases our risk of developing heart disease, heart failure, kidney disease and stroke. In truth, we only need a small amount of sodium each day (180 to 500 milligrams) to keep our bodies working properly. The American Heart Association recommends consuming fewer than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily. This amount ensures we get other essential nutrients in our diet and covers sodium that is lost through sweat during physical activity.

Why Do We Crave Salt?

Salt is one of the five taste sensations, along with sweet, savory, bitter and sour. As we age, our taste buds decrease in number and become less sensitive. One of the ways we compensate for this change is by adding more salt to our foods for extra flavor.

Salt is also deeply ingrained in our food history and culture. Think of traditional holiday foods like Easter hams and baccalà made from salted cod. Since biblical times, salt has been used to preserve meats and fish for transportation and storage.

Are All Salts Created Equal?

All kitchen salts, including table, kosher and sea salt, are composed of the minerals sodium and chloride and a few other trace elements, and have the same effect on the body when eaten.

Here’s how these salts vary in texture and flavor:

Table salt, which is typically mined from rock salt, is ground up very fine and has been fortified with Iodine since the 1920s in an effort to eliminate goiter—a larger than normal thyroid gland. Because of its fine grain, a teaspoon of table salt contains more sodium than a tablespoon of kosher or sea salt.

Kosher salt is coarse salt named based on its use in kashering (the process of making kosher) meat.

Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater. It can be fine or coarse and can differ in color and flavor depending on the trace minerals found in the water.

Tips to Reduce Your Salt Intake

  • Get rid of the salt shaker! Alternatively, before using a salt shaker, take a moment and ask yourself if you really need to add salt or if it is just an old habit.
  • Read food labels while shopping. Different brands may have different sodium levels, so look for lower-sodium options in cereals, crackers, pasta sauces, soups and canned vegetables.
  • Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. When shopping, select unsalted nuts or seeds and dried beans, peas and lentils.
  • Make your own marinades and salad dressings (such as the recipe for Simple Honey Balsamic Dijon Vinaigrette, below) with much less salt and for a lot less money! If you do buy pre-made dressings and marinades, read the labels and look for low- or no-sodium alternatives.
  • Eat smart when dining out. Familiarize yourself with high-sodium foods and ask your server to direct you to lower-sodium choices on the menu.
  • Add high-flavor spices and herbs such as basil, dill, garlic and mustard to enhance your dishes instead of relying on salt.