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.
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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.

Member Comments

  • 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. - 2/18/2014 11:39:15 AM
  • 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. - 1/28/2014 7:13:42 PM
  • Great Article. Thanks for the salt kick. - 12/6/2013 4:50:43 PM
  • While I find it somewhat difficult to attain a lower consumption of salt its also important to note most of us DO NOT get enough calcium or POTASSIUM in our diets which tend to alleviate some of sodium's bad effects. - 11/14/2013 9:17:25 PM
  • I find all of these comments very helpful. I have switched to Sea Salt for my table and sometimes cooking. Usually I use Lawrys seasoning salt for better flavor with foods and I find I use way less to season with because it has other seasonings to enhance the flavor. An added plus is that it has less salt per serving than traditional salt.
    And I am not surprised they use tons of salt in sweet foods. That's how they addict you with the sugar and salty boosts you get from them. Yep , my big behind knows all about that. (Insert disgusted eye roll here) Now I am paying in spades trying to reverse the bad effects of that. - 6/21/2013 4:21:56 PM
  • When I leveled out in my weight loss, I wondered why I wasn't losing and noticed my sodium was on average 4000 mg per day on my reports. Started keeping track and now strive to keep it under 2300 mg. In 2 weeks I dropped 17 lbs! In 3 weeks my BP went from 171/101 to 162/82 and lost a total of 24 lbs.
    It is worth obsessing over! - 2/22/2013 10:08:11 AM
  • Thank you for th-is insightful reminder that the danger is not necessarily in the shaker.

    God bless!

    - 11/15/2012 3:30:27 PM
  • I've always watched my sodium intake; I've always been a label reader. - 11/15/2012 12:33:23 PM
  • My hypertension was from menopause and not from sodium.

    Be careful if you go the lite salt way, they usually have a high concentration of potassium which is not healthy either.

    I think if you are one of those that has heart or kidney problems, it's very important to cut down (or out) the processed food it has too many hidden everythings. I like a little salt and pepper on some things, but I've noticed if you buy the gourmet salts you tend to use less for more flavour. - 11/15/2012 3:54:40 AM
  • I think everyone does need to afraid of the salt shaker AND processes foods when statistics show that 90% of normotensive people at age 55, will still end up with a hypertension diagnosis! The two culprits.....salt and sedentary lifestyles. On rare occasions, and the numbers are small...folks will run into a hyponatremia problem....genera
    lly that is due to other causes rather than a diet low in sodium. Oh...no difference between sea salt and regular salt, except that sea salt is a little coarser...might be taking in less because of that. Salt is salt. - 2/28/2012 12:18:48 PM
  • The one food that shocked me most recently in terms of ADDED sodium ... is cottage cheese. I happen to like it and was eating it for a nice boost of protein. Turns out the amount of salt added to it is absurd. For a 4 oz portion, it goes from 45mg to 440mg. Seriously ... almost half a gram of salt added to a mere 4 oz cup.

    (Admittedly, no salt added cottage cheese is a bit bland until I add in fruit which I usually did anyway. So many better ways to add some zest than such a high amount of salt.) - 2/14/2012 2:42:01 PM
  • MARTY32M
    Hello, those links in my comment got mangled. The title of the article in Scientific American is "It's Time to End the War on Salt" and the JAMA article is titled "Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion and Risk of Cardiovascular Events". It might be easier to get to them (and to comments on them) by googling the titles than by trying to follow the mangled URLs. - 12/26/2011 11:51:11 AM
  • MARTY32M
    Don't let your sodium intake get too low. Recommendations for sodium intake below 2000mg/day should be taken with a grain of salt. Those recommendations are based on extremely weak evidence--see this article on the Scientific American website: http://www.scient
    ificamerican.
    com/article.c
    fm?id=its-tim
    e-to-end-the-war-on-salt. In a study published recently in JAMA, http://jama.ama-a
    ssn.org/conte
    nt/306/20/222
    9.abstract, people with sodium intake below 3000mg/day had a higher death rate than people who consumed between 4000mg/day and 6000mg/day. Over 7000mg/day is certainly too much, but you if you succeed in attaining an unrealistically low sodium intake you might not be getting enough. - 12/26/2011 11:47:15 AM
  • CCDRAGONFLY
    Human beings have 4 kinds of taste buds....one is salt. We are born to like the taste. As with every other article on nutrition, we are wise to take it with a grain of salt (forgive the pun). We need a certain amount of sodium to survive and not everyone needs to be afraid of the salt shaker. - 12/26/2011 8:33:36 AM
  • KMRIPPLE
    I've been following a low-salt diet for close to six months now due to health issues. I was told I could consume 2,000-2,500 mg of sodium a day and the ENT explained to me the danger of going too low on sodium. Some people need to consume 1,000 mg of sodium or less, but not everyone does.

    An easy way to calculate is to aim for 500 mg sodium at breakfast, 600 mg at lunch and dinner and 100 mg at two snacks during the day.

    I don't shun all prepackaged food. I don't have the time or energy to cook everything from scratch. If you keep your servings accurate, you can use some convenience foods as a complement to low sodium options to create meals. Cheese is a great example. If you don't drown your food in it, it can add flavor and saltiness to meals. By the way, Swiss is a wonderful low sodium alternative.

    When looking at sodium content in foods, what surprised me the most was the amount of sodium in sweet products. Several examples are pancake mix, instant pudding mix and cake mixes all have well over 400 mg of sodium per serving.

    Hope this helps. - 11/18/2011 10:32:27 AM

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