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Don’t Pass the Salt, Please!

This Summer: Don’t Pass the Salt, Please!

When it comes to a healthy diet, a tip people often hear is “watch your salt.” Why exactly is salt so bad for us? And with salt seemingly in everything we eat, how we can take steps to cut back?

The scoop on salt and sodium

First, it helps to understand that salt – in moderation – is not bad for you. Table salt is made up of 60% chloride and 40% sodium. Sodium in the correct amount is actually essential to our health. It helps control fluid balance and send nerve pulses to affect muscle function. 

But too much sodium in the body – over the recommended 1,500 milligrams per day – can increase the volume of blood flowing through our blood vessels, forcing the body to work harder and putting pressure on the vessel walls.

This can lead to high blood pressure and associated health issues like heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease.

Benefits of reducing salt

Reducing salt and sodium intake can help reduce your risk of these conditions. One team found that reducing sodium decreased the incidence of cardiovascular disease by 25% to 30%.

In addition, another study found that reducing sodium by just 400 milligrams per day could prevent up to 32,000 heart attacks and 20,000 strokes each year. Experts also assert that reducing sodium to 1,500 milligrams per day could result in an estimated $26.2 billion in health care savings.

How to cut back

According to the American Heart Association, 90% of Americans’ sodium intake comes from salt, and the rest comes from other forms of sodium like baking soda. Also, more than 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods.

The recommended limit is 2,300 mgs per day of salt or 1,500 mgs per day of sodium.

To visualize this, think of the equivalent of 1 teaspoon per day of table salt.

While choosing to forgo salt at the dinner table can help a little, it isn’t always enough to sufficiently reduce sodium. These additional steps can help:

  • Always check nutrition labels, and look for the percentage of daily value of sodium. If it’s 5% or less, it’s considered low in sodium. If it’s more than 20%, it’s considered high. Find an alternative, or look for lower-sodium options of the same food.
  • In restaurants where nutrition information may not be posted, request information about the salt content or ask how foods are prepared. Avoid choices that are described by words like marinated, pickled, smoked, au jus, teriyaki, soy sauce, or broth.
  • When cooking, resist adding salt. Use pepper, lemon juice, spices, herbs, or salt-free seasonings instead.
  • Eat fresh foods as much as possible. Avoid the “center aisles” of the grocery store where they stock the canned and packaged foods. When you do use canned products, use the low-sodium types or select options like tuna packed with water instead of oil.

Reducing salt and sodium can go far in improving your diet and your cardiovascular health. For more tips for healthy eating that you can implement every day, with every meal, talk to a YMCA nutritionist.

Your friends at the YMCA


Nutrition expertise at the YMCA

Casey Spence and Pamela Cook, RDN, are helping members at the Littleton Family YMCA live healthy. The two dietary professionals are here to provide nutrition counseling, lead classes in healthy cooking and meal planning, and share helpful nutrition tips that can improve your overall health. If you’re struggling to meet your fitness goals, or you just want to start eating better, learn more about the Y’s nutrition programs, and look for regular YMCA emails on Healthy Eating at the Y.