How to Toss the Salt and Still Enjoy Your Food
Old superstitions once predicted bad luck for anyone who spilled salt. Salt was an expensive item, often used in place of money, and wasting it meant consequences. The remedy was to toss more salt over your left shoulder to ward off any evil.
Today, the price of salt is cheap, but the cost of consuming too much of it is high indeed: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and more. The remedy: toss the salt.
For many of us, cutting back on salt in our food is easier said than done. Salt is popular for a reason. It makes food taste good. But most of us are just consuming way too much of it.
How Much Salt Is Too Much?
The recommendation for most people is to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. That’s about 1 teaspoon of table salt. If you’re included in the following groups, the recommendation is to consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily:
- People with high blood pressure
- People over 50
- African Americans
- People with diabetes
- People with chronic kidney disease1
But most of us are eating about 3,400 mg of sodium a day. This includes sodium from all sources, not just the salt we add while cooking or at the table.2 This redesigned sandwich from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) demonstrates how easy it is to cut salt while still eating the foods we enjoy.3
Four Steps to Reducing Your Salt Intake
Consuming salt is just too easy … and tempting. The only way to get our salt consumption under control is to make a plan and stick to it. We have to learn to recognize salt in all its forms, because we eat a lot of foods without realizing how much salt they contain. Here are four steps we can all take to toss the salt out of our foods and regain control over how much we consume:
- Read labels in the store and in the restaurant.
- Eat more fresh foods.
- Cook and dine at home more often.
- Know the saltiest foods and reduce your consumption of them.
Read labels in the store.
Canned and packaged goods are notorious for loading up on salts and sugars. It’s how they preserve the taste of food. If you’re getting most of your meals out of a can or a package, or using them as the base for your cooked meals, it’s a sure bet that you’re consuming a lot more salt than you realize.
To protect yourself, start reading the labels on all canned goods before you put them into your shopping cart. Look for “sodium” and check the “% Daily Value” on the label. This will tell you what percentage of your diet, based on 2000 calories per day, is made up of the sodium in the can. For example, you might be surprised to find that, typically, canned vegetables have three times the amount of sodium that frozen vegetables do.
Try to find low-sodium options. Choose foods that say “low sodium,” “sodium free,” “reduced sodium,” “no salt added,” or “unsalted.” Avoid foods packaged in syrups, sauces, and gels.
Even better, eat more fresh or frozen foods and rely less on packaged goods. It’s a painless way to toss the salt.
Eat more fresh foods.
It may sound like a broken record, but eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh means less salt, period. Substituting fruits and vegetables into your diet is a delicious way to manage your weight and blood pressure. They help you fill up while releasing important nutrients necessary to a healthy heart.
You can use this free tool to help you decide how many servings you should be eating based on your age, gender, and activity level: Fruit and Vegetable Calculator.
Cook and dine at home more often.
Sure, it’s fun to eat out occasionally. But when you’re not the cook, you surrender control over what goes into your food. Restaurants specialize in making food taste good. The quick and easy way to do this is to add salt and sugar to taste. Spend some time looking at the calorie and content breakdown of the choices on your menu. You might be shocked by what you see. Don’t assume that because meals are listed as “Healthy” that they are low in calories or sodium.
When you cook at home, experiment with different flavors and spices to find good substitutes for salt. Cut your salt in half and substitute fresh herbs for the other half. Once you discover a mixture you like, try reducing the salt by half again. You’ll be surprised how quickly your tastes adjust to less salt in the food.
Need some ideas? Check out the DASH eating plan, a low-sodium eating plan that was designed specifically to prevent or manage high blood pressure.
Eat less of the saltiest foods.
Here are the 10 saltiest foods consumed most often in this country:
- Breads and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Pasta dishes
- Meat dishes
Choose to eat less of these foods. You don’t have to cut them out altogether, but eat them less often and eat less of them when you do.
How to Get Started
Start with these four steps and commit to changing your salt intake gradually. Eating less salt means choosing to eat less of foods with salt in them. Before you know it, you won’t believe how easy it is to toss the salt.
- Download a tip sheet with revealing insights into just how much sodium is in the foods we eat.
- Find out how to estimate a good daily calorie intake for yourself.
- Learn to recognize the signs of a heart attack.
- Check out our Heart-Healthy Recipes.
- Learn why for your heart’s sake, you need to get up and move.
1CDC. 2012 (February). Vital Signs: Where’s the Sodium.
2 CDC. 2013. Salt: 28 Days to a Healthier Heart.
3CDC. Get the Facts: Sodium Reduction Tips.
4CDC. 2012 (February). Vital Signs: Where’s the Sodium.