No Added Salt, Please
By Nancy M. Ouhib, MBA, RD, LD/N / April & May 2012

Salt (NaCl) is made up of sodium and chloride. Sodium is the principal mineral element in fluids surrounding the cells in the body. Approximately half of the sodium found in the body is in the extra cellular fluid. Sodium plays an important role in helping to maintain the fluid and acid-base balance of the body, the transmission of nerve impulses, the absorption of glucose, the relaxation of cells, and the permeability of cell membranes.

Excess salt intake can lead to sodium and fluid (edema) retention in the tissues. Decreasing salt intake is advisable to reduce the risk of elevated blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure in the normal range reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. Many Americans will develop hypertension (high blood pressure).

Lifestyle changes can prevent or delay the onset of high blood pressure and lower elevated blood pressure. These changes include reducing salt intake, increasing potassium intake, losing excess body weight, increasing physical activity, and eating an overall healthy diet.

The chief source of sodium in the diet is salt. Salt is not only used in food preparation and at the table. It is also present in considerable amounts of processed foods, such as ham, bacon, luncheon meats, frozen prepared foods, condiments and relishes, and snack foods, such as potato chips, crackers, pretzels and dips. Sodium compounds, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking powder and baking soda also contribute significant amounts of sodium.

For the normal, healthy adult, the sodium requirement is quite low -- about 500 milligrams (1,250 milligrams of salt). Salt is an acquired taste and Americans consume as much as 7.5 to 20 grams of salt per day! This is far in excess of our needs.(1,000 milligrams equals one gram).

It is recommended that people reduce their sodium intake to two to three grams per day (five to seven grams of salt). On average, the natural salt content of food accounts for about 10 percent of our total intake, while salt added at the table and in cooking adds another 15 percent. Approximately 75 percent is derived from salt added by manufacturers.

Here are some tips to help you cut back on your salt and sodium intake: 1. Think fresh. Fresh foods are generally lower in sodium. Eat processed foods less often and in smaller portions. 2. Enjoy home-prepared foods. Preparing your own meals allows you to limit the amount of salt in them. 3. Fill up on veggies and fruits. Fresh vegetables and fruits are naturally low in sodium. Eat a vegetable and fruit at every meal. 4. Choose dairy and protein foods that are lower in sodium. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt instead of cheese. Choose fresh meats and fish instead of smoked, cured, canned or processed products. Choose unsalted nuts and seeds. 5. Adjust your taste buds. Do not add salt to your cooking. Take the saltshaker off the table. Experiment with spices, herbs, vinegar and lemon juice to season foods. Try salt substitutes. 6. Read the label of nutrition facts on foods for sodium content. Look for alternatives labeled low sodium, reduced sodium or no salt added. 7. Restaurants may prepare your food without salt, at your request. Ask for sauces and dressings on the side. 8. Pay attention to condiments. All of them are high in sodium. Break the habit and just say no. 9. Boost your potassium intake. Potassium is found in many of our fruits and vegetables. It aids in fluid balance and helps to lower blood pressure.

Everyone, including kids, should reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day. Adults age 51 and older, African-Americans of any age, and individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should further reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day to help maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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