Salt is the common name for sodium chloride. In addition to flavoring food, it acts as a preservative by preventing the breakdown and spoilage of food. For thousands of years, man has recognized the value of salt. In some places, it was use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports most Americans (adults and children) are averaging more than 3400 mg of sodium/day.d in place of money for trading goods. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt “wages.”
According to the Salt Institute, about 260 million tons of salt were produced throughout the world in 2008. The U.S. produces about 46 million pounds of salt annually. Some salt is obtained from seawater or salt water lakes. Salt can also be mined directly from the ground.
The important ingredient in salt is sodium. Table salt contains about 40 percent sodium. One teaspoon of salt has about 2300 mg of sodium.
The body needs some sodium to regulate the balance of fluids in the body. Currently, health experts say adults should consume no more than 2300 mg of sodium a day. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports most Americans (adults and children) are averaging more than 3400 mg of sodium/day. In some people, too much sodium causes the body to keep in too much fluid, increasing blood pressure and workload on the heart. Roughly 29 percent of American adults have high blood pressure and another 28 percent have borderline high blood pressure. The extra force on the blood vessels increases the risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
The American Heart Association and the National Salt Reduction Initiative, in collaboration with health officials in New York City, are spearheading national efforts to gradually lower the amount of sodium in the American diet. Their goal is to reduce salt intake over the next five years by 20 percent, to 1500 mg/day. Almost 80 percent of the sodium in our diet comes from processed and restaurant foods. Therefore, city, state and national health leaders are working with restaurants and food manufacturers to voluntarily reduce the amount of sodium in their food products. Researchers estimate cutting back on sodium by about 1200 mg/day would reduce the annual number of new cases of heart disease by up to 120,000, heart attacks by up to 99,000 and stroke by up to 66,000.
Cutting Back on Salt
It’s hard to cut back on sodium because salt is added to so many processed foods. Tomato sauce, soups, condiments, canned foods and prepared mixes (like instant mashed potatoes and flavored rice) are especially high in sodium. Read package labels for sodium content. “Healthy” prepared meals should have no more 600 mg of sodium/serving. Be aware there are different terms for sodium labeling:
- Unsalted, no salt added or without added salt means
no salt has been added during processing. However, the ingredients may
still contain sodium if the element is naturally present in the canned
- Sodium-free products contain less than 5 mg of sodium/serving.
- Very low-sodium signifies the package contains 35 mg or less sodium/serving.
- Low-sodium foods have 140 mg of sodium or less/serving.
- Reduced sodium products contain 25 percent less sodium than the same regular packaged products.
Lisa Hark, Ph.D., R.D., Family Nutrition Expert in Philadelphia, PA says it’s important to look not only at the amount of sodium on a label, but the serving size as well. If you will be eating two servings of a product, you need to multiply the sodium content by two.
Americans are so used to salt, lower salt versions of the same foods often taste too bland. Hark says it’s best to make the change slowly to help your palate adjust. When possible, buy fresh ingredients and make meals from scratch. That enables you to control how much salt is used in preparation. If foods are too bland, try spicing them up with herbs or salt-free seasonings. Plain, frozen vegetables are generally better than canned varieties. If you want canned vegetables, look for items that have “no salt added.” When possible, buy low-salt versions of processed foods. Rinsing canned foods also helps remove some of the salt. If you like to snack, look for unsalted varieties.
It’s especially difficult to control salt intake when eating out because diners often have little control over how food is prepared. If possible, ask the chef if the food can be prepared without salt. Order healthier meats, like salmon or grilled chicken and have the sauce (usually very high in sodium) served on the side.
American Heart Association, http://www.heart.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/salt
Food and Drug Administration, http://www.fda.gov
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
For information on the National Salt Reduction Initiative, go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/cardio/cardio-salt-initiative.shtml
For general information on salt:
The Salt Institute, http://www.saltinstitute.org
Bibbins-Domingo, K., et al., “Projected Effect of Dietary Salt Reductions on Future Cardiovascular Disease,” New England Journal of Medicine, February 18, 2010, Vol. 362, No. 7, pp. 590-599.
Pimenta, Eduardo, M.D., et al., “Effects of Dietary Sodium Reduction on Blood Pressure in Subjects with Resistant Hypertension,” Hypertension, September 2009, Vol. 54, No. 3, pp. 475-481.
Smith-Spangler, M.D., et al., “Population Strategies to Decrease Sodium Intake and the Burden of Cardiovascular Disease,” Annals of Internal Medicine, April 20, 2010, Vol. 152, No. 8, pp. 481-487.
“Sodium Intake Among Adults – United States, 2005-2006,” MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 25, 2010, Vol. 59, No. 24, pp. 746-751.
“Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States,” Institute of Medicine, April 2010.