Shaking the Salt Habit to Lower High Blood Pressure
Do you know the most common sources of sodium?
Many Americans have acquired a taste for a high salt diet. One way to cut back is to skip the table salt. However, most of the sodium in our diets comes from packaged, processed foods. Eating these foods less often can help reduce your sodium intake, lower your blood pressure and/or prevent high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, from developing in the first place.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults, especially for those with high blood pressure. Even cutting back by 1,000 mg a day can improve blood pressure and heart health.
Salt versus sodium equivalents
Sodium chloride or table salt is approximately 40 percent sodium. It’s important to understand just how much sodium is in salt so you can take measures to control your intake. These amounts are approximate.
- 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
- 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
Sodium can be sneaky! Taking control of your sodium means checking labels and reducing preservatives. Other foods to be aware of include:
- Processed foods such as breads, pizza, cold cuts, soups and savory snacks
- Natural foods with a higher-than-average sodium content, including cheese and poultry
- Table salt, sea salt and kosher salt (sodium chloride) — although most of the sodium in our diets comes from the above foods it is always good to ease up on the salt shaker
- Some over-the-counter drugs
- Some prescription medications
Learn more about the sources of sodium.
Shopping and cooking
From the grocery aisles to your dinner table, here are some tips for reducing the amount of sodium that finds its way into your body.
Shop smart, cook smart.
- Choose lower-sodium foods or low-sodium versions of your favorites. Although it may take some time for your taste buds to adjust to a lower-sodium diet, there are delicious options for very flavorful low-sodium meals. Once the adjustment to healthier dining is made, many people report they would not choose to go back to the highly processed, sodium-rich foods.
- When buying prepared and prepackaged foods, read the labels. Americans consume up to 75 percent of their sodium from processed foods like soups, tomato sauce, condiments and canned goods. Watch for the words “soda” and “sodium” and the symbol “Na” on labels, which warn you that these products contain sodium compounds. Many canned and frozen food labels help the consumer by printing “low salt” or “low sodium” boldly on the packaging.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. When buying canned or frozen varieties, be sure to choose the no-salt added versions, and look for the choices without added sauces.
- Use fruit and raw vegetables as snacks.
- Select unsalted nuts or seeds, dried beans, peas and lentils.
- Select unsalted or low-sodium fat-free broths, bouillons or soups.
- Avoid adding salt and canned vegetables with added salt to homemade dishes.
- Don’t use salt during cooking and remove the salt shaker from your table. Certain salt substitutes contain a large amount of potassium and very little sodium. They are not expensive and may be used freely by most people, except those with kidney disease. Talk with your health care professional about whether a salt substitute is right for you.
- Learn to use spices and herbs to enhance the natural flavor of food. Ditch salt for healthier, delicious salt-free seasoning alternatives.
- Don’t salt food before you taste it; enjoy the natural taste of food.
- Follow the DASH eating plan.
Reduce sodium when dining out.
Americans eat more restaurant-prepared meals now than ever, and restaurant food is often high in sodium. But controlling your sodium intake doesn’t have to spoil the pleasure of dining out. It just means adopting new habits into your current lifestyle. So if you love dining out, follow these tips.
When dining out:
- Be familiar with low-sodium foods and look for them on the menu.
- When ordering, be specific about what you want and how you want it prepared. Request that your dish be prepared without salt.
- Don’t use the salt shaker. Instead, use the pepper shaker or mill.
- Add fresh lemon juice instead of salt to season fish and vegetables.
- Order vegetables without salt added and fruit as side items.
- Limit fast food and takeout foods.
Seasoning alternatives — spice it up!
There is a rich world of creative and flavorful alternatives to salt. Get started with this guide to spices, herbs and flavorings and the food items with which they are a particularly good flavor match. Then get creative and experiment! Here are some seasonings to add variety:
- Allspice: Lean meats, stews, tomatoes, peaches, applesauce, cranberry sauce, gravies, lean meat
- Almond extract: Puddings, fruits
- Basil: Fish, lamb, lean ground meats, stews, salads, soups, sauces, fish cocktails
- Bay leaves: Lean meats, stews, poultry, soups, tomatoes
- Caraway seeds: Lean meats, stews, soups, salads, breads, cabbage, asparagus, noodles
- Chives: Salads, sauces, soups, lean meat dishes, vegetables
- Cider vinegar: Salads, vegetables, sauces
- Cinnamon: Fruits (especially apples), breads
- Curry powder: Lean meats (especially lamb), veal, chicken, fish, tomatoes, tomato soup
- Dill: Fish sauces, soups, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, cucumbers, potatoes, salads, macaroni, lean beef, lamb, chicken, fish
- Garlic (not garlic salt): Lean meats, fish, soups, salads, vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes
- Ginger: Chicken, fruits
- Lemon juice: Lean meats, fish, poultry, salads, vegetables
- Mace: Hot breads, apples, fruit salads, carrots, cauliflower, squash, potatoes, veal, lamb
- Mustard (dry): Lean meats, chicken, fish, salads, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, sauces
- Nutmeg: Fruits, potatoes, chicken, fish, lean meatloaf, toast, veal, pudding
- Onion powder (not onion salt): Lean meats, stews, vegetables, salads, soups
- Paprika: Lean meats, fish, soups, salads, sauces, vegetables
- Parsley: Lean meats, fish, soups, salads, sauces, vegetables
- Peppermint extract: Puddings, fruits
- Pimiento: Salads, vegetables, casserole dishes
- Rosemary: Chicken, veal, lean meatloaf, lean beef, lean pork, sauces, stuffings, potatoes, peas, lima beans
- Sage: Lean meats, stews, biscuits, tomatoes, green beans, fish, lima beans, onions, lean pork
- Savory: Salads, lean pork, lean ground meats, soups, green beans, squash, tomatoes, lima beans, peas
- Thyme: Lean meats (especially veal and lean pork), sauces, soups, onions, peas, tomatoes, salads
- Turmeric: Lean meats, fish, sauces, rice