If you’re like most Americans, you consume way too much sodium.
There’s a good chance that by the end of the day today, you’ll have eaten far more salt than current health guidelines recommend.
Nine out of 10 of us are eating too much salt, and we’re getting it from some surprising sources, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Why worry about salt?
When you eat salt, your body pulls in or holds onto extra fluid to maintain the sodium-water balance. That extra fluid adds volume to your blood. “If there’s more fluid in the blood vessels, there’s more circulating blood volume, and that raises the blood pressure,” explains Dr. Helen Delichatsios, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Having high blood pressure increases your risk for a heart attack or stroke.
A study published online this April in the journal Stroke linked high salt intake with an increased risk of stroke. More than 20% of the people in the study ate about twice the recommended daily amount. Stroke risk increased for each additional 500 mg of salt the participants consumed a day.
How much you need
Sodium isn’t entirely bad. Our bodies need it to maintain nerves and muscles. It’s the amount of salt we eat that’s concerning.
The average American eats about 3,300 mg of salt daily, but U.S. guidelines recommend that most people get less than 2,300 mg of salt a day. Those of us who are ages 51 or older should eat even less—1,500 mg a day. That’s just over 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Where salt hides
You know the more obvious sources of salt—potato chips, popcorn, soups and other canned foods, and hot dogs. Yet sodium can hide in some foods where you wouldn’t expect to find it. Some of the CDC’s top sodium offenders include
breads and rolls
More than 40% of our daily sodium intake comes from foods like these. Considering that many of these foods are dietary staples, how can we get around them when we shop?
Start by reading food labels. Look at not only the amount of sodium per serving, but also the percentage it makes up of your recommended daily sodium allowance. Look for products labeled “salt-free,” “no salt added,” or “low-sodium.” Avoid condiments such as soy sauce, ketchup, teriyaki sauce, and salad dressings, which tend to be loaded with salt. And ask to have your food prepared without salt at restaurants.
Minimize the salt you add during cooking. Other seasonings, such as garlic, cumin, and vinegar, can add flavor to your food without compromising your heart health.
Even if you’ve come to rely on salt to enhance the taste of your food, you can unlearn this unhealthy habit. “It is possible to train your taste buds,” Dr. Delichatsios says. “If you reduce your amount of salt over time, food won’t taste bland to you.”