A little bit of salt goes a very long way. We need sodium found in salt to live, but too much will kill us. The key is moderation, which is difficult to achieve.

Sodium interacts with potassium and chloride – the other mineral found in salt – to maintain fluid balance in the body. Sodium assists in regulating blood pressure, transmitting nerve impulses and helps with muscle function, including the heart. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke.

Be a Smart Shopper

Read labels to find what is in the foods you eat.

Buy fresh, plain frozen or canned “no salt added” vegetables.

Choose foods that say:

  • Sodium free
  • Low Sodium
  • Salt free

Prepare Lower Salt Meals

Reduce salt each day until none is used. Substitute low sodium spices and herbs.

Remove salt from recipes. Rice, pasta and hot cereals can be cooked without salt.

Use fewer sauces and “instant” products.

Rinse salt from canned foods.

Limit smoked, cured or processed beef, pork and poultry.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that young, healthy adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. That’s about a teaspoon of salt. That gets cut to no more than half a teaspoon or 1,500 mg of sodium once people reach 40, and even sooner if they are African American or have high blood pressure.

Americans eat more than twice that. Restaurant foods, lunch meats, canned soups, salad dressing, cereal and soda are loaded with salt and sodium. Food manufacturers add salt to enhance flavor, slow spoilage and extend shelf life. Sodium is often a hidden ingredient. If food labels list baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate or compounds where “Na” is part of the name, sodium is in the product.

Salt overload is a major contributor to today’s health care crisis. More than 74 million Americans and over four million Canadians have high blood pressure. They are at increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and other serious conditions and rack up billions of dollars in health care costs when they become ill.

A small dietary reduction in salt could improve this situation and pressure is mounting for change in the food industry.

A new study finds that cutting daily salt consumption by one-half teaspoon could prevent nearly 100,000 heart attacks and 92,000 deaths each year. This represents a $24 billion savings in health care costs.

In New York City – where heart attacks and strokes kill 23,000 people every year – the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) was recently launched. It calls for food manufacturers and restaurants to voluntarily lower salt content by 20 percent over the next five years.

Salt consumption can be reduced without sacrificing taste. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) website – with shopping guides, recipes and tips for choosing restaurant food – is a good place to start for getting salt off the menu and improving health.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]