What should you take away from the latest guidelines on salt
Too much salt in American diets is a well-known link to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and other serious health issues, so the FDA recently released new guidelines about how much of it should be in our food.
The new guidelines are aimed at restaurants and processed food, because that’s where people get the majority of sodium in their diets. Home cooked meals tend to have less.
And people want less. A poll done by the American Heart Association showed that 75% of Americans want less sodium in the prepared food they buy.
Americans average 3,400 mg of sodium each day. The ultimate goal for most Americans is to get this amount to 2,300 mg per day or less. Those with health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease should aim for even less — usually less than 2,000 mg per day, sometimes even under 1,500 mg per day.
It might not always be easy to cut back. It might take some time for your taste to adapt to less-salty food. But it’s important to try. Here are five simple tips that might help.
Sodium Slashing Tips:
- Eat as few packed, prepared foods as possible. Instead, cook your own meals at home and include plenty of foods naturally low in sodium such as produce (fresh or frozen), whole grains, dried beans/split peas/lentils, nuts & seeds, and olive oil. (Bonus: the potassium in many of these foods helps your body get rid of excess sodium.)
- Make smart choices when dining out. Many meals contain over 2,000 mg of sodium. Look up nutrition information ahead of time for restaurants on their websites. Sites such as MyFitnessPal and CalorieKing can also help determine choices lower in sodium. Eating 1/3 to ½ of what’s served also helps decrease sodium. Ask for that doggie bag! Try to limit eating out to twice per week or less.
- Become a sodium detective by reading food labels and looking for key words that tell you there will be less sodium. Double-check the serving size and compare that to what you’re actually eating. On the outside packaging, look for phrases such as no-salt added, sodium-free, very low sodium, low sodium, and light in sodium.
- Limit salt bombs such as the Salty Six. Limit how often you eat these foods and portion sizes when they are eaten. Preparing them with lower sodium foods also helps.
- Bread & rolls
- Tacos & burritos
- Cold cuts & cured meats
- Maximize flavor while ditching the sodium. Use these flavor boosters often as you cut back on salt and sodium.
- Fresh herbs
- Nutritional yeast
- Dried herbs & spices
- Flavored vinegars
- Chile peppers & chili paste
- Citrus juices & citrus zest
- Dijon mustard
- Vanilla extract
Even if you’re a self-described salt-a-holic, you can follow the above tips to slash sodium gradually. Pretty soon you’ll be saying: “ Food is too salty now!”
Heather Klug is a registered dietitian with the Karen Yontz Women’s Cardiac Awareness Center at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.
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About the Author
Heather Klug, MEd RD is a registered dietitian and cardiac educator at the Karen Yontz Women's Cardiac Awareness Center inside Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.