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Tips for Lowering Your Salt Intake

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Updated June 21, 2007

While the link between salt (sodium) and high blood pressure is still debated within the medical community, studies have shown that when people lower their salt intake, their blood pressure tends to decrease.

Some people seem to be resistant to the negative effects of salt, while others - most notably African Americans and the elderly - seem to be hypersensitive. Because we cannot predict individual sensitivity, limiting salt intake is a prudent step in preventing high blood pressure.

Read Food Labels

Nutrition Information Label
Every food product for sale in the United States is required to carry a label that lists all of the food's ingredients as well as nutrition information. Included in the nutrition information is a section that tells you exactly how many milligrams of sodium (salt) the food product contains. If you aren't in the habit of reading these labels, you may be very surprised at the salt content of some common foods. Canned soups, for example, often contain more salt than you should eat in an entire day (the recommended daily allowance for sodium is around 2,400 milligrams).

Buy Fresh Foods

All processed food contain a lot of salt. While some is a necessary part of the preparing process and helps to keep foods fresh, the majority is unnecessary. Prepared foods are often oversalted to compensate for the destruction of flavor that happens when the foods are subjected to preparation and packaging. Choosing fresh fruits and vegetables over their frozen or canned equivalents can reduce average daily salt intake by more than 15 percent. While there is a perception that fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive than their pre-packaged counterparts, several nationwide studies have shown that this is not true. While exotic or non-local items are often expensive, locally available, in-season produce is often very inexpensive.

Put Away the Salt Shaker

The household salt shaker is an important contributor to daily salt intake. In many homes, salt is added to a recipe, more salt is added "to taste" during cooking, and still more salt is added when food reaches the table. While there is usually nothing wrong with adding the specified amount of salt to a recipe, resist the temptation to add salt afterward. Instead, consider replacing your salt shakers with small bottles of salt-free herbs and spices. Most spice companies now make small bottles of mild herbs and spices designed as salt shaker replacements. Large grocery stores often have their own house brand or generic versions, as well. Garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, dill, and paprika are all flavorful and healthy salt substitutes.

Cut Back on "Instant" Foods

In our hectic, time pressured culture everything from oatmeal to potatoes is available in an "instant" form. Usually, these instant foods contain much more salt than their non-instant counterparts. One brand of plain instant oatmeal, for example, contains almost 30 percent more salt than the non-instant variety. While the time savings might seem attractive, reading the preparation directions will often reveal that the amount of time saved is actually very small. Using our oatmeal example, the directions say to let the instant preparation sit for five minutes before eating, while the non-instant version takes seven to eight minutes to prepare. Flavored rice, pasta and cereal mixes are often the worst offenders in this category.

Choose Lower Salt Convenience Foods

While eliminating prepared or semi-prepared "convenience" completely may be difficult for many families, most manufacturers of these foods usually offer lower salt versions of their products, and the packaging is clearly labeled to reflect this difference. Crackers, snack bars, cereals, and even potato chips all have low-salt options available, usually for the same price. To make the biggest dent in your salt intake from this category of foods, buy low-salt versions of canned soups, salad dressings, and pre-made "ingredient foods" like bread crumbs and broths. Frozen dinners, packaged "lunch in a box" products marketed for children, and microwavable snacks are also all very high in salt and are a good candidate for substitutions.

Rinse Canned or Frozen Foods Before Eating

Not all canned or frozen foods have fresh alternatives. Tuna, for example, is a very popular food, and is actually a good source of low fat protein. Similarly, shoppers on a budget may not be able to afford fresh green beans or asparagus in the middle of winter, when prices are at a premium. In situations like these, you can still lower the salt impact of these foods by rinsing them before eating or cooking. Canned tuna can be rinsed right in the can - just open it, dump out the packed liquid and flush two or three times with cool, clear water. Frozen vegetables can be rinsed using a colander before steaming or boiling. This simple step can reduce the amount of salt by 25 to 40 percent.
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