Do you know how much salt you and your family consume each day? Or which foods represent your biggest sources of sodium? Chances are, probably not. Your body needs sodium to function well. But too much of this good thing can wreak havoc on your health.
How often do scenarios like this one play out? You’re trying to get a quick start on a busy day, so you grab fast-food for breakfast on the way to work. A quick lunch with your kids involves canned tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. And in the evening, you cap off an exhausting day by reaching into the refrigerator and pulling out hot dogs for dinner.
We’ve all been there. So, it’s no wonder the average American eats so much salt — more than one-and-a-half teaspoons per day on average, or a half teaspoon more than recommended. The problem isn’t limited to adults — 90 percent of American children eat more sodium than recommended, with 1 in 9 having raised blood pressure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Too Much Salt Harms the Kidneys and Heart
Our kidneys maintain the balance of salt in our bodies. When that balance is off, it can be dangerous for people with hypertension, heart disease (particularly congestive heart failure) and chronic kidney disease. Salt causes water retention, which increases blood volume, forcing the heart to work harder and increasing pressure in the arteries. It also can cause high blood pressure and increase your risk for heart disease and kidney failure.
The average American diet contains 3,400 mg of sodium per day — well above the recommended intake of less than 2,300 mg. And you may be surprised to learn that you can go over the limit without ever reaching for a saltshaker. If you want to reduce your intake, here’s where to start:
Most of our sodium comes from processed foods, such as fast food, frozen TV dinners, processed meats (bacon, ham, hot dogs) and canned goods. Cut down or cut out these foods and buy fresh meats instead.
Buy fresh produce and look for “fresh frozen” vegetables instead of the canned variety.
Prepared meals such as soup, pasta, meat assortments, and seafood dinners also are high in sodium. Read food labels, avoiding products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving.
Restaurant meals are loaded with salt and often contribute to this excess. Cut back on dining out, take-out and delivery.
Do your best to make healthier choices. Faced with a choice between a deli sub, chips and soda or a fresh gyro wrap, side salad and water — the Greek meal is the healthier option.
Cook at home to control the amount of salt in your diet.
Avoid salting your foods with table salt, using a substitute if needed.
In many cases, you can improve the taste of food by using dried or fresh herbs, zests and juices that are not salted.
Salt substitutes are another option, though you need to understand the terminology, as some of them still contain salt:
“Reduced” or “less sodium” means the product contains at least 25percent less sodium than the regular version.
“Lite” or “light in sodium” means the sodium content has been reduced by at least 50 percent from the regular version.
“Unsalted” or “no salt added” means no salt is added to a food that normally contains salt.
Other substitutes contain potassium chloride, which can be harmful to those with congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and kidney problems. Be sure to read labels and compare brands.
Reducing salt in your diet helps decrease blood pressure as well as the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Certain patients with kidney disease, congestive heart failure, and hypertension will benefit greatly from reduced salt intake. Prevention of these diseases by reducing salt intake will give you a chance of a better, healthier, and longer life.