From popular packaged meals and savory munchies to zesty canned soups and sauces, Americans love their salty snacks. The Centers for Disease Control says each of us eats an average of over 3400 mg of salt every day, and most of that excess sodium comes from processed foods. Although that pile of cheese fries may hit the spot for satisfying salty cravings, studies show that excess sodium is taking a shot at our health.
Nutrition experts say we should be consuming much less than the average amount. "For healthy individuals, the recommendation is to consume no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day," said Ann Lokuta, MPH, RD, associate instructor at the Office of Wellness and Integrative Health with University of Utah Health. "That's about one teaspoon of salt every day." Experts say about 90 percent of Americans eat too much sodium. Additionally, the CDC warns that too much salt in your diet can raise your blood pressure, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
The good news is that our body responds quickly to a reduction in sodium, so any time is a good time to change your diet. This year's World Salt Awareness Week 2018 is scheduled for March 12-18. This is an ideal time to adopt healthier habits to reduce salt intake. The truth is, sodium often shows up in unexpected places. It's hidden in our drinks, canned foods, and even dips on fresh party platters. "I recommend doing a pantry audit at home to identify the main packaged foods, condiments, canned goods, etc., that are large sodium contributors in your diet," Lokuta said. "Try swapping out your favorite products with low-sodium versions or try products with no salt added."
To make a positive difference in your diet, the American Heart Association warns against the Salty Six: the six healthy foods that add the most sodium to your diet. If you are trying to reduce your salt intake, keep an eye on the following foods:
- Processed meats. These tasty cuts are the primary source of sodium in the American diet.
- Pizza and pasta sauces. The low-sodium product choices for your favorite homemade pizza and pasta dishes are expanding all of the time.
- Bread. Some bread types—for example, one pita—can pack up to 300 mg of sodium. Also, one bagel contains almost 500 milligrams of salt. Your best bet is to find your favorite whole grain version.
- Soup. Although convenient, canned soups are loaded with salt. Many people opt to eliminate canned soups from their diet altogether. Instead, they prepare a big pot of homemade soup to pack for lunch or to have on-hand for a quick dinner. Or, look for a low sodium option, like Amy's Organic Low-Sodium Soups, if you need a meal in a hurry.
- Salt seasonings. Rather than relying on salt for flavoring dishes, why not experiment with herbs and spices? Mrs. Dash spices are all sodium free!
- Chicken. How could a chicken breast be naughty? Some brands inject a sodium solution into the meat to enhance the flavor, so if you want to control the amount of sodium in your cuts of meat, choose organic brands.
It's true that excessive salt intake can be harmful to our health, but it's also true that it's delicious, making it hard to kick the habit! "When we consistently consume high amounts of sodium, our tastes adapt, and we end up having a higher threshold for salty tastes," Lokuta said.
To retrain your tastes to desire less salt, give yourself time and try tasting reduced sodium foods several times. Try not to confuse different tastes with dislike. Adding a variety of nutrient-dense foods to your diet can help, as well. "Load up on fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, which provide a variety of beneficial nutrients, but especially potassium which helps counteract the negative health benefits that high sodium intake may bring," said Lokuta.
This year, make a commitment to be less salty. By making healthier choices—and reading the food labels of our favorite products—we can enjoy a life filled with sugar and spice and everything nice, with just a little bit of salt on the side.