Sodium is a necessary nutrient, but most Americans consume several times more than they need.
When there is excess sodium in the body, the kidneys retain fluid, putting an extra burden on the blood vessels, heart and kidneys. Extra sodium can lead to high blood pressure.
The American Heart Association recommends people with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease limit their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day. This translates to about ¾ teaspoon of salt. For those without a chronic illness, the recommendation is 2,300 milligrams a day.
Most of our sodium intake comes from processed foods, accounting for more than 70% of an average American’s intake. Some examples of high-sodium processed foods include canned and dry packaged soups, macaroni and rice mixes, frozen entrees, canned meats, processed meats, salted snack foods and pickled, smoked or cured items.
Eating away from home can be difficult for those with high blood pressure. Most fast-food sandwiches have 800-1,000 milligrams of sodium.
There are steps you can take to reduce your sodium intake. Choose lower-sodium versions of your favorite foods. You can buy reduced-sodium soups and bouillon. Vegetables and canned beans also have “no salt added” versions. For an item to be considered low sodium, it needs to have no more than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Choose less processed foods and eat more fresh or frozen items. Eat more fruits and vegetables and look for plain frozen vegetables without added seasonings or sauces. Select unsalted nuts or seeds, dried beans, peas and lentils. Don’t use salt during cooking, and remove the salt shaker from your table. Learn to use more spices and herbs to enhance food’s flavor. Buy salt-free seasonings, such as garlic powder instead of garlic salt.
At the table, don’t salt the food before you taste it. Enjoy the natural flavors of foods. Salt is a learned taste — your taste buds will adjust.
When dining out, choose more fresh foods, such as fewer processed meats and more steamed vegetables and baked potatoes. Ask for foods to be prepared without salt or MSG. Order dressings and sauces on the side and use sparingly. Instead of salt, use pepper instead. Add fresh lemon juice in place of salt to season fish and vegetables.
The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, helps you manage blood pressure. For 1600-1800 calories, the plan recommends six servings of whole grains; 6 ounces or less of lean meat, fish or poultry; 4-5 servings of fruit; 4-5 servings of vegetables; and 2-3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Fats, oils, and added sugars are limited. This plan is rich in potassium, which helps enhance the effects of reducing sodium on blood pressure.