How to Shake the Salt Habit

December 4, 2023 | 5 min read

The body requires a specific amount of sodium to support normal nerve, muscle function, and fluid balance. However, an excess of sodium, primarily from salt consumption, can pose risks to heart health by placing additional strain on the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys as the body tries to get rid of the excess sodium.

Elevated sodium intake has been associated with high blood pressure, which increases the likelihood of heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease.

The average American consumes excessive salt, averaging around 3,440 mg per day—nearly 50% beyond the recommended limit. Reducing sodium intake proves beneficial for heart health.

The Dietary Guidelines advises adults to limit sodium consumption to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day, equivalent to about one teaspoon. An even lower limit of 1500 milligrams is suggested for people who:

  • Have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease
  • Are aged over 50

Alternatively, a reduction of at least 1,000 mg in sodium intake is encouraged.

The good news is that there are measures you can take to monitor and restrict sodium intake effectively.

Sodium and Salt: Are they the same?

Differentiating between sodium and salt is crucial. While often used interchangeably, sodium comes in various forms and is naturally present in many foods. Additionally, it is added to processed foods during manufacturing. Salt is formed when sodium combines with chloride, creating the crystalline substance found in saltshakers. However, the majority of dietary sodium comes from prepared foods, especially those that are packaged or processed, with sodium added during the cooking process before purchase.

“Losing or hiding the salt shaker is relatively a minor step. It’s the food, not the salt shaker.” —Keith Ferdinand, MD, FACC

Sodium in Some Popular Foods

Food Item Sodium Per Serving Size
Ketchup 160 mg 1 tbsp
Cheese for sandwiches 230 mg 1 slice
Bacon 260 mg 1 slice
Turkey breast (deli style) 420 mg 2 ounces
Pasta sauce 480 mg 1/2 cup
Rice pulao (with seasoning) 780 mg 1 cup prepared

Top Sources of Sodium

  • Breads and rolls
  • Pizza
  • Processed meats such as deli meats, hot dogs and bacon
  • Soups
  • Snack foods including crackers, pretzels and chips
  • Cheese
  • Chicken—believe it or not, chicken is one of the highest sources of salt!

Surprising Sources

  • Sodas
  • Pasta sauces, bottled salad dressings, ketchup and other condiments
  • Meat dishes such as beef stew, chili, and meatloaf
  • Frozen dinners

9 Ways to Cut Salt

  1. Make Informed Food Choices: Surprisingly, table salt isn’t the primary culprit. Over 70% of the sodium in our diet comes from packaged and restaurant foods.
  2. Be Label Savvy: Take the time to read Nutrition Facts labels on food boxes, aiming for products with 5% daily value or less of sodium. Avoid or limit items with a sodium content of 20% or more per serving. Opt for options labeled “low-sodium,” “no salt added,” “sodium-free,” and “unsalted.”
  3. Be Mindful of Salt in Prepared and Restaurant Foods: Quick grab-and-go foods and restaurant meals are often high in sodium. Requesting less or no salt when dining out, and asking for salad dressing on the side, can help. Preparing more meals at home allows better control over sodium intake.
  4. Choose Healthy Snacks: Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables over salty snacks like chips, which are loaded with sodium.
  5. Beware of Canned Foods: Canned items, especially soups, are typically high in salt for preservation. Rinsing canned foods, such as beans or vegetables, before consumption helps reduce sodium content.
  6. Experiment with Seasonings: Enhance your dishes with herbs, spices, fresh lemon or lime, crushed ginger, or garlic for added flavor without excess sodium.
  7. Be Cautious with the Salt Shaker: While the salt shaker is a kitchen staple, be mindful of the salt you add to your meals. Consider placing it in a cabinet to reduce easy access.
  8. Inquire About Salt Substitutes: Before using salt substitutes, consult with healthcare providers to ensure their safety for specific individuals.
  9. Seek Guidance from a Nutritionist: For personalized advice on meal planning and reducing sodium intake, consult a nutritionist or dietitian. The DASH diet is also a popular and effective plan for controlling salt consumption.