How to Shake the Salt From Your Diet

There’s no denying it—Americans consume twice the recommended amount of sodium they need every day. And they don’t eat enough enough food containing potassium. The imbalance increases the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Here are 11 tips on how to correct that.

1. Consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day (approximately 1 tsp of salt). If you’re 51 or older, African American (of any age) or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the goal is to consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium each day (approximately two-thirds tsp of salt).

2. Don’t add salt to foods. At first, a low-sodium diet may taste bland, but your palate will adjust within six to eight weeks.

3. Shop for fresh foods rather than processed foods, which are high in sodium. For instance, choose fresh or frozen vegetables over the canned variety.

4. Eat more meals at home, where you have more control over the sodium content of your food.

5. Flavor foods with herbs, spices and citrus juices. These seasonings can help perk up foods and compensate for the flavor lost from the reduction in salt. Check the label, however; some herb and seasoning blends also contain added salt.

6. Check food labels for sodium content. Processed foods supply about 75 percent of the sodium in the average American diet. Avoid high-sodium products, such as luncheon meats, sausages, smoked meats and fish, hot dogs, canned soups, frozen dinners, condiments (relish, mustard, ketchup, soy sauce and pickles), cheese and processed snack foods. Foods with less sodium can also be a problem if you eat them too often. Breads and chicken dishes each contribute 7 percent of the sodium in our diets; pizza contributes 6 percent and pasta contributes 5 percent. As a rule of thumb, avoid foods with more than about 480 mg of sodium per serving.

7. Remember that sodium comes in many forms, not just salt. Baking soda, MSG, onion salt, soy sauce and some other flavorings are sources of sodium.

8. Consider salt alternatives. Salt alternatives—such as Cardia and Morton’s Lite Salt, which contain about half the sodium content of table salt—are an option for some people. However, people with kidney problems who are on a potassium-restricted diet and those taking potassium-sparing diuretics for high blood pressure or heart failure should not use these products because they replace some of the sodium with potassium. Speak with your doctor before using these salt alternatives.

9. Look for reduced-sodium packaged foods. Sodium claims made on labels must meet certain standards: Low-sodium foods must contain 140 mg or less per serving; very low-sodium means 35 mg or less per serving; and sodium-free has 5 mg or less per serving. Unsalted or no-salt-added foods generally contain only naturally occurring sodium.

10. Minimize consumption of fast foods and request that restaurant meals be prepared with less salt.

11. Aim for at least 4,700 mg of potassium a day. Eat more fruits, vegetables, milk, dairy products, legumes and grains. Bananas, kidney beans, lentils, asparagus, mushrooms, avocados, oranges, orange juice, yogurt, cantaloupe, watermelon, prunes and potatoes are just a few of the foods that are both high in potassium and low in sodium. If you have kidney disease or take medications like ACE inhibitors, talk to your doctor about how much potassium is safe to consume.

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into in 2018.