Researchers sampled 450 adults in the U.S. and less than 10 percent of the sodium in their diet came from use of the salt shaker at home. They then found that 70 percent if the sodium came from restaurant meals and processed foods, including canned soups and frozen meal

Keep the heart healthy with less sodium and salt

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Heart researchers are pretty firm in their belief from numerous studies that excess sodium and salt are not so great for the heart. Once upon a time, the primary source of sodium was through the salt shaker used to season food at the table, but the times have changed. With easy, fast and convenient meals available for busy families and hard-working folks, the primary sources of sodium and salt in the diet are different today, as you might suspect.

Researchers sampled 450 adults in the U.S. and less than 10 percent of the sodium in their diet came from use of the salt shaker at home. Not too much. They found that 70 percent if the sodium came from restaurant meals and processed foods, including canned soups and frozen meals. Not surprising, right?

The average sodium intake in this study was 3,500 mg per day. The Dietary Guidelines recommend 2,300 mg or less per day and the American Heart Association suggests less than 1,500 mg per day.

It is so much easier today to eat too much sodium than too little. In part, because almost everything we eat has been processed in some way. We may like plain rice that has 0 mg of sodium, but we love the seasoned boxed rice options that contain up to 800 mg sodium per ½-cup serving. Oil and vinegar for a dressing has 0 mg sodium but the preferred bottled dressings have as much as 600 mg per 1 tablespoon.

In an effort to find a healthy balance, consider what you make from scratch. Add flavorful herbs and spices that do not have a salt base to make the dish tasty but lower in sodium. Black pepper is great but lemon pepper actually has a salt base. Double check the ingredient labels for salt, and check the Nutrition Facts label to see the sodium content. And compare products – there is a big difference between brands and their sodium content.

There are many foods that are naturally low in sodium. They include:

  • Fresh and frozen plain fruits and vegetables (without added salty sauces)
  • Plain rice, pasta, potatoes and legumes
  • Fish, poultry, meat
  • Milk
  • Unsalted nuts

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.