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The Benefits of Cutting Back on Salt

The Benefits of Cutting Back on Salt

This is not just the time of year to give a heart to your valentine, but it is also the time to take care of your own. February is American Heart Month, and studies show that adopting a low-sodium diet (and lifestyle) is an excellent first step in having a healthier heart. Let’s begin with the facts about salt and sodium. 

How much sodium (salt) should I be eating? 

The FDA recommended daily sodium intake is no more than 2,300 milligrams, maximum. How much sodium is in a teaspoon of salt? About 2,300 milligrams. That means that the daily maximum amount of salt you should be consuming is less than a teaspoon every day. Ideally we should work towards limiting our sodium intake to about 1,500 milligrams a day for optimal health. 

Unfortunately, most Americans consume closer to 3,400 milligrams of sodium every day. This is because the amount of salt we ingest isn’t just the tiny bit we sprinkle on top before we eat, there is also a lot of added sodium to processed foods to make them taste delicious. Therefore, we are eating a lot of added salt without even realizing it. 

Why should I make an effort to reduce my salt intake? 

The biggest reason to cut back on salt is because this is one simple way to reduce your risk of high blood pressure (the leading cause of cardiovascular disease). It can feel overwhelming to try and address all healthy habits at once, such as working to increase exercise, get more sleep, eat less sugar, and eat a cleaner, more nutrient-dense diet. Since reducing sodium is such a key component in lowering the risk of heart disease, switching to a low-sodium diet is a great place to start in reaching a healthier lifestyle. 

How can I reduce my salt intake? 

These are some easy ways to cut back on salt and sodium every day:

Read food labels

According to the CDC, about half of the sodium consumed by Americans come from the following high-salt culprits: pizza, breads & rolls, fast sandwiches (deli, hamburger, hot dogs), packaged meats (such as sliced sandwich meat), canned packaged soups, burritos & tacos, snack foods (like chips, popcorn, crackers), and packaged cheese. Be extra careful when reading labels for these foods, and/or avoid them as much as possible.

Reduce gradually

If you’re used to a lot of salt in your food it can make everything taste bland when going without. Rather than cut sodium cold turkey, reduce it first. Be aware of how much you are using and cut back little by little wherever you can. If you like pre-made marinara sauce, add a can of no-salt added tomato sauce to cut it. Love the ease of canned soup? Add salt-free broth and make it last even longer. Soon the salty foods you love will taste over-seasoned.

Get cooking

When you prepare more meals at home from scratch, you have full control over the amount of sodium that goes into the food you eat. Learn how to make a homemade pizza rather than buying a packaged one - it will be fun for the whole family! Top it with plenty of vegetables too. Another great way to reduce sodium in home cooked meals is to wait to add salt until the very end, and only sprinkle a little on top. The seasoning will be more powerful this way and not get lost amongst the other flavors.

Substitute with bold and fun flavors

Fresh herbs, seasoning blends, toasted nuts or seeds - these are all wonderful toppings to add bright and delicious flavor to your meals instead of salt.

Eat MORE of other foods

If you love salty snacks, fill up on things that aren’t salty first and you won’t be as tempted to mindlessly munch away. Think of foods that satisfy the crunch of chips - like crunchy cucumber slices dipped in low-sodium hummus, or a small handful of nuts. You will be so full of the good stuff that you’ll forget your craving more easily.

Rinse high-sodium foods

Beans, tuna, and other canned foods are often sitting in a lot of salt. Give them a quick rinse before you eat them to reduce the sodium content.

Watch portion sizes

The smaller the portion you eat, the less chance to consume too much salt - especially with processed foods. If eating out or ordering delivery, split your portion in half and check in with your fullness level before you go for another helping. Not only will this help reduce sodium but it will contribute to a healthier and more balanced weight.

When you take care of your heart you are choosing to take care of your entire body. Lowering sodium intake not only reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, but also supports overall health and wellness.

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Source: [Jaret, Peter. “The Salt Solution: Cutting Back on Sodium” WebMD.] [“Sodium in Your Diet” FDA.]