Throughout history salt was essential for preserving food. Nowadays salt is used in abundance to give food taste to the point that salty meals and snacks are to be expected. Try a can of salt-free vegetables and you’ll be shocked by the difference! It’s little wonder that Americans on average consume about twice the daily recommended amount of sodium.
According to the government’s dietary guidelines, people ages 14 and over should not have more than 2,300 mg (1 teaspoon) of sodium per day. For older adults, African Americans, and anyone with kidney disease, hypertension, or diabetes, the limit is even lower – 1,400 milligrams (a bit more than ½ teaspoon) sodium per day. The problem is that most Americans ingest as much as 4,000 mg of sodium on a daily basis.
Our bodies need sodium to function properly; it helps us maintain fluid balance and it’s integral for the transmission of nerve impulses that make our muscles contract and relax. Since we don’t produce sodium ourselves we rely on foods and drinks to get it. Only 12 percent of the sodium we get in our diet comes naturally in foods and only five percent comes from salt we add to home cooking. If we habitually eat processed foods our intake of salt adds up fast. Case in point: a well-known whole grain cereal packs an eye-popping 580mg sodium per cup! Lunch meat has lots of salt; 3 ounces of deli turkey or salami have about 810 mg and 1,200 mg of sodium respectively. Other salty mainstays include diet soda, cottage cheese, salad dressings, canned soups and sauces, and much more.
As a rule of thumb low sodium foods have less than 140mg per serving, moderate sodium foods have less than 400 mg per serving, and high sodium foods contain more than 400mg sodium per serving. To keep within the recommended 2,300mg of sodium per day it helps to read nutrition labels to see how much salt is in a serving. Generally speaking, eat foods in the low or moderate sodium range and limit high sodium foods. A safe bet is to choose fresh foods over processed, go easy on restaurant foods and don’t overdo it with salty snacks.
A great way to cut back on salt without sacrificing flavor is to use salt-free seasonings such as Mrs. Dash, Magic, as well as fresh herbs and spices. Salt substitutes such as Nu-Salt and No Salt are helpful, too.
For advice on healthy eating, drinking and weight loss, check out my new book The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber!
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in New York City and author of the Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with fiber as well as the bestselling F-Factor Diet. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website Ffactor.com.