Salt. You need it to survive, but what you don't need is too much of it. The sodium in salt helps muscles relax and contract, aids in conducting nerve impulses and balances the water and minerals in the body. But consuming too much sodium may contribute to health issues, such as high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart failure, heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis and headaches.
Our bodies only need about 500 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day to carry out essential functions. The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that people ages 14 and up limit sodium to 2,300 mg or less daily. But the average American gets about 3,400 mg of sodium each day! Much of the sodium in our diets doesn't come from a salt shaker. It's mostly in processed foods.
In an effort to help Americans reduce their sodium intake, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently asked food manufacturers and chain restaurants to voluntarily reduce the sodium in their food. These are just recommendations, not mandates. Ulimately, if you want to lower your sodium intake, it's up to you to tweak the foods you buy, how you cook and what you eat.
Here are 5 ways to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet:
- Choose low-sodium processed foods when possible. Salt makes food taste good and also acts as a preservative, which is why there's so much of it in processed foods. But there are many products that have lower-sodium versions. While they won't always taste the same, you can cut back on sodium by choosing these foods over their full-sodium counterparts. Use spices to enhance the flavor of lower sodium dishes, like extra garlic or onion powder, pepper or cumin.
- Pick and choose low-sodium options. If there's something you really don't like the taste of in its low-sodium version, skip it and focus on foods where you don't notice a difference. Some of the best low-sodium foods are those you use in recipes, since you'll be seasoning the food anyway. Consider low-sodium versions of canned tomatoes, beans, broth and condiments.
- Modify the full-sodium option. You can reduce the amount of sodium in some canned foods by rinsing them. Or combine full-sodium and low-sodium products to lower the sodium per serving without sacrificing taste. For example, rinse canned beans under running water and drain. Or combine a can of regular chicken broth with a can of sodium-free broth when making soup.
- Be aware of high-sodium culprits. According to the FDA, about 40% of the sodium in American diets comes from just a handful of foods. These include deli meat sandwiches, soup, pizza, burgers, burritos and tacos, poultry, egg dishes and omelets, pasta mixed dishes and savory snacks (like chips, popcorn and crackers).
- Read labels. Cooking at home gives you some control over sodium compared to eating out, but read labels carefully. You'll be surprised to find sodium in foods that don't even taste salty. The amount of sodium you consume can really add up if you eat a lot of processed foods. On the other hand, most unprocessed foods — such as fruit, veggies, meat, nuts (unsalted) and whole grains — have little or no sodium.
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Date Last Reviewed: December 16, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor