Salt: Too Much of a Good Thing

Americans eat too much salt. Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause heart disease and other health problems. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest reducing salt/sodium in your daily diet.

Table salt is made up of sodium and chloride. Salt and other sodium containing ingredients are often found in processed or packaged foods. Most of the sodium in our meals comes from processed foods.

Sodium is the part of salt that increases blood pressure. There is more sodium in salt than any other food that we eat. We eat salt because it makes food taste better. It enhances the flavor of almost everything we eat. Yet eating too much salt is dangerous.

The body needs sodium to hold water in the blood vessels. Sodium also regulates water balance in all parts of the body. If too much water is held in the body, the amount of blood increases. If it increases too much, problems will arise.

The increase in blood makes the heart work harder. The result can be high blood pressure. Other conditions, such as diabetes, can cause high blood pressure. The most common cause is eating too much salt/sodium. When high blood pressure is not controlled, it can lead to a heart attack, stroke or kidney disease.

How much sodium is too much?

Health experts recommend 1,100 - 3,300 mg of sodium per day for healthy adults. Most people eat 2,300 to 6,900 mg per day. This is too much sodium. Some people are salt/sodium sensitive. African Americans, Hispanics, and obese individuals are especially sensitive to salt.

Controlling the salt in your daily diet can reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Check your blood pressure often. If it is high, see a doctor. High blood pressure is a reading of more than 140/85. If your blood pressure is normal, keep it that way. Exercising, eating less salt and fat, and keeping your weight down will help your blood pressure stay normal.

Salt/sodium can hide in many foods. One teaspoon of salt contains 2,000 mg of sodium. The following suggestions can help lower salt intakes:

  • Eat fewer salty snacks such as potato chips, nuts, cheese and pretzels.
  • Read the "Nutrition Facts" panel on food labels to see how much sodium you are eating.
  • Read the label. Look for the words, low-salt or reduced-sodium on products to replace those with high salt.
  • Use fresh or frozen vegetables instead of high sodium canned
  • Avoid pickled products like sauerkraut, deli meats, sausages and canned fish.
  • Use herbs and spices like garlic powder, thyme, oregano, and basil to flavor food and use less salt. Season meat with lemon juice, bay leaf, crushed red pepper and rosemary. Season chicken with sage, seasoned vinegar and ginger.
  • Limit the use of high-salt soy sauce, meat tenderizers, seasoned salt, and Worcestershire. Look for salt-free herb blends for cooking.

Many people have learned to reduce salt in their diets without missing the salty taste. You can too. Cut back on salt slowly, allowing time for your tastebuds to adjust. Replace the salty taste with another flavor.

Salt-Free Herb Blend

Use this blend on food you would normally use salt. Fill the salt shaker and shake until your heart is content. You can find inexpensive, bulk, dried herbs in the produce section of the grocery store.

5 teaspoons onion powder
2-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
2-1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
2-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional*)

Combine ingredients and mix well. Spoon into a shaker. Makes 1/3 cup.

*Fiery spices do not raise blood pressure. A small amount of ground red pepper can enhance the flavor of food without making it taste too hot.

Prepared by Drusilla Banks, Nutrition and Wellness Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

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