Watch Out for the S-Word! Tips for Consuming Healthy Amounts of Salt

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Everyone needs some salt for their bodies to function properly. However, nearly all Americans consume more salt than they need.

Salt makes your body hold more water which requires the heart to work harder. In many people too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, and as the heart works harder due to high blood pressure the deadly affect can be heart disease, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that a person in good health consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt in one day, which equals approximately one teaspoon.

Anyone seeking to lower their blood pressure should cut their salt intake to 1,500 milligrams daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Lower-sodium diets also can keep blood pressure from rising and help blood pressure medicines work better. Most Americans are consuming 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams of salt each day.

According to the FDA, the natural salt in food accounts for about 10 percent of total intake, on average. The salt we add at the table or while cooking adds another five to 10 percent. About 75 percent of our total salt intake comes from salt added to processed foods by manufacturers and salt that cooks add to foods at restaurants and other food service establishments.

Lois Hilgers, registered dietitian at Texas County Memorial Hospital, works regularly with patients that have dietary restrictions such as a physician’s order to reduce salt intake. “Eat lots of fruits and leafy green vegetables,” Hilgers encourages her patients.

The potassium in fresh fruits and vegetables can blunt the effects of sodium in the diet.

Hilgers notes that it’s also easy to find salt-free frozen vegetables in the supermarket. “It’s better to switch to salt-free frozen vegetables than to rinse off canned vegetables,” Hilgers said. “Some nutritional value of canned vegetables is lost when the liquid is discarded.”

When choosing processed foods, Hilgers also recommends that salt-free snacks are chosen. The amount of salt in a snack or any food is listed as “sodium” on the “Nutrition Facts” label that appears on most food packages.

The salt intake in a diet of mostly processed foods will quickly add up. Foods like cereal, lunchmeat, canned soup and boxed pasta and rice may have very high amounts of salt.

The Nutrition Facts label also lists the “% Daily Value” for sodium. Look for the abbreviation “%DV” to find it. Foods listed as five percent or less for sodium are low in sodium. Anything above twenty percent for sodium is considered high.

“Try to select foods that provide ten percent or less for sodium, per serving or 30 percent or less for something like a pre-made meal,” Hilgers said.

Hilgers knows that it’s not easy for anyone to completely cut salt out of their diet.

“It takes about a month for the natural flavors of foods to begin to taste good when all salt is removed from the diet,” Hilgers said.

Hilgers recommends that herbs are used in place of salt for flavoring.

“Fresh herbs are always best, if available,” Hilgers said. She noted that one tablespoon of fresh herb is equivalent to one teaspoon of dried herbs. Herbs should also be dated so they are not kept for over a year at a time to maintain fresh flavors.

Hilgers also utilizes a “Spice Blend Recipe” (see sidebar) as a salt substitute seasoning.

Simply learning to avoid tipping the salt shaker is a good way to avoid extra salt intake and to begin conditioning the body and taste buds to appreciate the flavors of food without salt.

“You will find that the health benefits of limiting salt intake greatly outweigh the temporary pleasure found in the taste of salt in food,” Hilgers said.

For additional information regarding your health and salt intake, talk with your healthcare provider. Additional information about physical health and salt intake is also available here through the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

Spice Blend Recipe – Makes 1/3 Cup
5 tsp. onion powder
2 ½ tsp. garlic powder
2 ½ tsp. paprika
2 ½ tsp. ground mustard
1 ½ tsp crushed thyme leaves
½ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp celery seed

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