Excess sodium intake not only increases blood pressure, but also increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Today’s post is written by Kathy McManus, MS, RD, LDN, Director, Department of Nutrition and Nutrition Director, Program for Weight Management. The post originally appeared in the Healthy 850 Newsletter, published by the Osher Clinical Center for Integrative Medicine.

Some consumers believe that dietary salt (sodium) is only a concern if they have high blood pressure; not true. Excess sodium intake not only increases blood pressure, but also increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death in the US. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that 97 percent of children and adolescents eat too much salt, putting them at greater risk for cardiovascular disease as they age.

The most recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) revealed that the average American consumes 3,585 mg of sodium daily, mainly from food (3,407 mg). Only a small portion (178 mg) is from salt added at the table. More than 75 percent of consumed salt comes from processed foods and from foods eaten away from home (at restaurants and fast food establishments).

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that, in general, adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (equal to about 1 teaspoon of salt) and that they should consume potassium-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables. However, high-risk individuals (those who are 51 years of age or older, African American, or have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease) should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. This applies to more than 50 percent of the population. Researchers estimate that if Americans cut their average sodium intake by more than half, the number of people with high blood pressure would drop by 26 percent, saving more than $26 billion in health care costs over just one year.

The top sources of sodium in the US diet: bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes, and snacks.

So, what are some tips to lower salt?

  1.  Try the DASH (Diet Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet, voted best diet by US News & World Report in 2012. The DASH diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk and milk products, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts, and contains only small amounts of red meat, sweets, and sugar-containing beverages.
  2. Eat less packaged, canned, and processed foods. Consume more fresh and frozen foods (without added sauces).
  3. Eat less smoked, cured, and processed meats.
  4. Look for bread products that have less sodium.
  5. Be spicy instead of salty. Limit use of high-sodium condiments (soy sauce, barbecue sauce, cocktail sauce, and pickles) and flavor foods with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, or salt-free seasoning blends.
  6. Limit snack foods (chips, pretzels, and popcorn).

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