Most of the sodium we consume doesn’t come out of the salt shaker in our kitchens or on our tables; it comes from the food we buy at the grocery store or order in restaurants.
According to the American Heart Association, more than 75 percent of the sodium we consume comes from packaged, prepared and restaurant foods.
Our bodies need sodium for many of its functions, but too much sodium can cause high blood pressure and heart disease and increase your risk of many other health issues.
"Ideally, you should limit your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg per day (about one teaspoon), but the average American gets nearly twice that each day," said Mary Brewer, R.D., R.N., a clinical dietician in Carilion Clinic’s Nutrition Services. "If you already have high blood pressure, you should limit your sodium to 1,500 mg per day."
If you’re trying to cut back on sodium, it may be time to take a long look at the food you eat. These tips from Mary can help:
In the Grocery Store
- Read labels – The nutrition facts label will show you how much sodium is in a serving of any food; just remember that the label shows you mg per serving and that most packaged foods contain multiple servings.
- Choose fresh and frozen over canned or prepared vegetables – There is much less sodium in fresh and frozen vegetables. However, if you eat canned vegetables, you can remove much of the sodium by rinsing the vegetables before you cook them. Remember that adding butter or any kind of sauce to your vegetables will increase sodium.
- Don’t be fooled – Just because things like bread, cereal or dairy products seem healthy doesn’t mean they aren’t full of sodium. Be sure to read the label and choose low-sodium packaged foods.
- Beware of condiments and sauces – Sodium can be very high in pre-packaged condiments and sauces like tomato sauce and salad dressings. If you can’t find low-sodium options, try making your own with easy recipes you can find online.
- Look for the AHA mark – When food meets The American Heart Association’s criteria for low sodium, you’ll see the red and white heart-check mark on the packaging.
At a Restaurant
- Taste before you salt – Take a bite of your food to see how it actually tastes before you add salt. You may be surprised that you don’t actually need as much as you think you do.
- Know the key words – Words like pickled, cured, smoked, brined or au jus mean that a lot of salt was used in the preparation.
- Ask questions – Don’t be afraid to ask for ingredients, nutrition facts or how food on a menu is cooked. You may be able to significantly reduce the sodium in your meal just by removing or replacing a couple of ingredients.
- Keep track – Just like a food log can help you track the calories you consume when you’re dieting, you can also keep track of sodium in your diet. Write down what you eat and how much sodium is in your serving to get an overall picture of how much you consume in a day.
- Add flavor with things other than salt – Use spices like garlic or herbs like basil to add delicious flavor to your food without using any salt. Keep in mind that some spices and spice mixes can be high in sodium, like garlic salt, onion salt and meat tenderizer.
For more information on sodium and how to reduce it in your diet, visit the American Heart Association.