Nutrition Articles

Shakin' It Up with the Skinny on Salt

The Danger is Not in the Shaker

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Even if you are not a potato chip and pretzel junkie, you’re probably eating more salt than you realize. Sodium, the main ingredient in table salt, can hide in places you don’t suspect, like in ketchup, frozen dinners, instant hot cereals and some medications.

What’s Harmful About Sodium?
High levels of sodium can cause the body to retain too much fluid. This can be harmful to people with high blood pressure or heart, liver or kidney diseases. People with these conditions should be especially careful about sodium intake. But there’s some debate on whether everyone needs to worry about all of this salt talk. We’ll listen to the USDA, who recommends that we need to choose and prepare foods with less sodium. The average American adult consumes about 2,500 to 5,000 milligrams of sodium a day. But we only need 1,100 to 3,300 milligrams, or about 1/2 to 1-1/2 teaspoons. That can be a pretty big difference.

Where are we getting so much sodium in our diets?
Think about all the times we add salt during cooking or as a seasoning to a prepared meal. Surprisingly, our own salt shaking doesn’t compare to the major sources of “hidden” sodium in our diets found in processed foods and baked products. Some examples include salad dressings, mustard, meat tenderizer, cheeses, instant foods, pickles, canned vegetables and soups, salsa and barbecue sauce. Even common medications such as antacids, laxatives and cough remedies contain sodium compounds.

The keys to watching our sodium levels are to be aware of which foods have a high sodium content and to limit how much of those foods we eat. Practice checking the nutrition facts labels of packaged foods for the exact sodium content per serving. Some label terms can help our purchase decisions:


Term

Means

sodium free or salt free less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
low sodium

140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving

reduced or less sodium at least 25% less sodium than the food’s standard serving
light sodium

50% less sodium than the food's standard serving

unsalted or no salt added

no salt added during processing, but could contain naturally occurring sodium


Steps to Reduce Your Sodium
  • Limit your use of the salt shaker. Try a shaker with smaller holes.
  • Substitute salt seasoning with other flavorings, such as onion, garlic, lemon, vinegar, black pepper, or parsley.
  • Choose fresh, frozen or canned vegetables without added salt.
  • Cook fresh or frozen fish, poultry and meat more often than canned or processed forms.
  • Compare the amounts of sodium in various brands of frozen dinners, packaged mixes, cereals, cheese, breads, salad dressings, soups and sauces. Sodium content varies widely among different brands.
  • Rinse canned beans and vegetables to remove added salt before cooking.
  • Choose foods labeled “low sodium,” “reduced sodium” or “sodium free.”
  • Know how much sodium is in your favorite condiments, especially soy sauce, steak sauce, ketchup and salsa. Limit your intake accordingly.
  • Avoid foods with MSG (monosodium glutamate), particularly when dining out. You can ask to have your meal prepared without MSG.
  • Try to limit your daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams.
One thing that the experts do agree on is that getting a balanced diet with more fruits and vegetables is more important than obsessing over one ingredient, like sodium. So it’s good to be mindful of how much sodium you’re taking in, but concentrate more on an overall nutritious diet.

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Member Comments

  • BILLTHOMSON
    I have no salt in my house, but I'm consuming too much salt according to my nutrition tracker, I'm going to start looking for the "hidden" salt.
  • great information
  • It really annoys me that many canned "no salt" products such as chickpeas, tomatoes and kidney beans are much more expensive than the salted products... and they seldom come on special.
  • I do not eat pretzels often, but when I do they will be salty. Everything in moderation - and if I am going to splurge on pretzel - it will be a good one ha ha.
  • The takeaway is that salt/sodium is not the enemy - processed food IS. If your meal had to be extruded, hydrogenated, or fortified, you should probably start shopping the perimeters of your grocery store!
  • JANETEMILY
    I eat very few processed foods, and only eat out a couple of times a month. I've never been a "salt" person, and rarely have trouble staying under 2000 mg a day, most days it is 1500 mg or less. So when I had blood tests done, my sodium levels were below normal...and my doctor wasn't happy with that either!
  • Sodium is in almost everything except whole foods. I have been trying to cut back on it all year and it isn't easy. Reading labels has helped me a lot.
  • Take a look at how much sodium the people of Japan eat. Then look at their rates of heart disease and high blood pressure. Then tell me again how dangerous salt is. (Pro tip: It's not the salt that's killing us.)
  • ANDREWPANDA
    What shocks me is all the people who watch the sodium levels, but figure sea salt is OK. Sea salt is still sodium chloride and does the same amount of damage as regular salt if too mach is ingested. Plus according to the American Heart Association, the extra minerals are just in minuscule amount, and people will get them if they eat a well balanced diet.
  • For the record, you can find pretzels that have fewer than 240 mg per ounce, if you read the labels; Bachman rods for example.
  • Which brand of pretzels has 1,029 mg of sodium for 10 mini rounds? I've read a lot of pretzel bag labels and haven't seen one that is that high. Most are in the range of 350 to 450 mg. per ounce. Glad they are a limited snack in our house.
  • Without looking at more than 2 pages, I assume that someone has already pointed out that USDA recommends 2300 mg maximum. Probably this article should be either amended or stricken. There are enough internet articles claiming that 2300 is too low.
  • I always thought lowering salt consumption was good for everyone, but found out it caused nearly fatal problems for me. I have low blood pressure (as do my two children) and the lack of salt was causing me to black out several times a day. My doctor told me to be free with the salt shaker and make sure I never get dehydrated.
  • I retain water very easily, so I do my best to keep my salt intake under 2,300 mg daily. It's hard, but if I have too much salt, my feet and ankles immediately balloon up. Now I use minimal salt when cooking and use other seasonings, as well as steering clear of sodium laden prepared foods.
  • Great Article. Thanks for the salt kick.

About The Author

Laura Bofinger Laura Bofinger
As a freelance writer, Laura uncovers some kind of inspiration every day when she writes about health and fitness.

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