Ever wonder why store-bought frozen pizza or grandma’s beloved canned-soup-based green bean casserole tastes so good? The common denominator in these favorites and many other processed foods is salt – and lots of it.
Eating less sodium can help lower blood pressure in some people, reducing their risk of heart disease. While sodium is something we need in our diets, most of us eat too much of it. Some of the sodium we eat comes from salt we add to our food or from processed foods we buy from the grocery store. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1500 mg of sodium each day.
Use these tips to reduce your salt intake:
Put Away the Salt Shaker
The household salt shaker is an important contributor to daily salt intake. In many homes, salt is added to a recipe, more salt is added "to taste" during cooking, and still more salt is added when food reaches the table. While there is usually nothing wrong with adding the specified amount of salt to a recipe, resist the temptation to add salt afterward. Instead, consider replacing your salt shakers with small bottles of salt-free herbs and spices. Most spice companies now make small bottles of mild herbs and spices designed as salt shaker replacements. Large grocery stores often have their own house brand or generic versions, as well. Garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, dill, and paprika are all flavorful and healthy salt substitutes.
Go Cold Turkey — Almost
The more salt you eat, the greater the potential rise in your blood pressure — so people with hypertension should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. One surefire way to reduce your intake: Take the saltshaker off the table, and try not to add salt to foods you prepare at home. If you miss the flavor, experiment with some of the salt substitutes on the market. When you do use salt, use a coarser salt with less sodium per teaspoon, like kosher salt and certain coarse-grain sea salts.
Be a Label Reader
When you’re comparing nutrition labels on products at the grocery store, make sure you check the sodium content too. All nutrition stats are listed per serving, so if you eat more than one serving, you’ll need to make sure you calculate total sodium accordingly. As a general rule, look for entrées with no more than 800 mg sodium and snack foods with no more than 200 mg — and of course, the lower the better. Go out of your way to buy brands that offer low-sodium varieties, especially when it comes to canned goods.
Go Easy on Salty Condiments
This list includes deli and processed meats (like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs), canned soup and broth, canned vegetables and beans, pickles, frozen entrées, and salty condiments like soy sauce, ketchup, and bottled salad dressing. When you do use these foods, eat them sparingly or look for “reduced sodium” varieties. If you’re lucky enough to find “no salt added” versions of canned beans, tomatoes, and other products on this list at your supermarket, you’re totally in the clear.
Buy Fresh Foods
All processed food contain a lot of salt. While some is a necessary part of the preparing process and helps to keep foods fresh, the majority is unnecessary. Prepared foods are often oversalted to compensate for the destruction of flavor that happens when the foods are subjected to preparation and packaging. Choosing fresh fruits and vegetables over their frozen or canned equivalents can reduce average daily salt intake by more than 15 percent. While there is a perception that fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive than their pre-packaged counterparts, several nationwide studies have shown that this is not true. While exotic or non-local items are often expensive, locally available, in-season produce is often very inexpensive.
Restaurants (fine dining, chain, and fast food) are notorious for pouring on the salt. A single restaurant entrée can easily dish out more than 4,000 mg sodium (that’s almost triple what someone with hypertension should have!). Dining at home more often will make a significant dent in your sodium intake, and, in all likelihood, cut back on your calories and saturated fat too. Make dining out a special treat; your blood pressure, waistline — and wallet — will thank you.
Eat Low-Salt Snacks
Indulging in certain popular snack foods — like chips, pretzels, crackers, and snack cakes — tend to be a major reason why people consume such high sodium levels in their diets. Purchase low-sodium brands of these foods, or take it a step further and choose naturally low-sodium snacks like yogurt, fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables, and unsalted nuts and seeds. As a bonus, these snack options satisfy your appetite better and leave you feeling much more energetic during your busy day.