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How to Reduce Salt in Your Diet, at Home or Dining Out

If you like to liberally sprinkle salt on your food, you should be careful. Consuming too much salt can shorten your life by several years. According to the FDA, "The recommended limit for sodium is 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day for people 14 years and older. But people in the U.S. consume 3,400 mg per day on average!"

It's surprising how rapidly our daily salt intake can add up, especially when you realize most of the salt consumed isn't from sprinkling it on top of a meal. Processed foods are a major source of salt in the diet. Either because they are high in salt (e.g., ready-made product, cheese, processed meats like pepperoni, bacon, or ham, instant noodles, and salted snacks, etc.) or for the reason that they are consumed often in large quantities (for example, bread, cereal, or other processed foods). Salt is also added while cooking the food (like fish sauce, soy sauce, table salt, broth, stock cubes). According to research, approximately 75% of sodium intake in the U.S. comes from processed products and restaurant foods with sodium/salt added before consumer purchase.

Excessive salt consumption can raise blood pressure and increase the possibility of heart diseases and stroke. In addition, high blood pressure slowly damages the kidneys and results in kidney failure.

Tips To Monitor And Reduce Salt Consumption

To help Americans to monitor and reduce salt consumption to the recommended quantity (< 2,300 mg/day), the following are some useful tips:

At the Grocery Store

While grocery shopping, keep in mind the following tips to reduce your salt consumption:

  • older woman comparing nutrition facts on box at grocery storeTry to fill approximately 40% of your cart with fruit and vegetables. You can buy fresh, frozen, or canned fruit and vegetables. Just make sure to drain or rinse the canned foods to remove excess salt.
  • When buying everyday items, read the nutrition labels on the packaging.
  • Wherever available, select packaged foods that are labeled "low sodium," "reduced sodium," or "no salt added."
  • Purchase products with the least sodium by reading food labels and comparing the quantities of sodium in various goods. When reading food labels, keep things simple - LESS IS BETTER! Choose items with the lowest sodium content per 100g. Pick food each week to test and replace when you go grocery shopping.
  • Check the servings per container and the sodium content per serving.
  • Pick the fresh meats instead of processed meats. Natural sodium is present in fresh beef, poultry, and pork cuts, but it is far less than the concealed sodium added in processed products like ham, bacon, or salami.
  • Pick fruit or vegetables for a healthier snack, such as carrot or cucumber sticks. If you are going to buy some crackers or crisps, make sure to read the labels and pick the ones with the least amount of salt. Check the fat and sugar content as well.
  • Check the salt content of pre-made pasta sauces to ensure they're not too salty. For example, cheese-based sauces and those including olives, pancetta, or ham usually have higher salt than tomato-based sauces.
  • Select spices or seasonings with no sodium listed on the package, such as garlic powder instead of garlic salt.
  • Don't load up on salty condiments like mustard, soy sauce, pickles, mayonnaise, or other sauces.

At Home

You can cut the salt consumption while cooking food. There are a variety of ways to flavor the food without using salt. Take a look at these options:

  • older woman cooking at home in kitchenUse herbs, spices, lemon or lime zest, ginger, garlic, and vinegar instead of salt to enhance the flavor of your food.
  • Instead of using boxed and pre-made sauces, prepare your own!
  • Try roasting or baking vegetables like carrots, red peppers, zucchinis, fennel, parsnips, or brussels sprout to make them more flavorful without salt.
  • When possible, cook pasta, rice, beans, and meats in their most basic forms, whether dried or fresh.
  • Mixes, sauces, and "instant" foods should be avoided, such as noodles, ready-made pasta, or flavored rice.
  • Remove the salt shaker from the dining table.
  • Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit.

Dining Out

If you're eating out or getting takeaway, you can still reduce your salt intake:

  • older gentleman eating at restaurant patioBefore placing your order, request nutritional information and pick a low-salt dish.
  • Instead of extra cheese, bacon, or pepperoni, choose veggie or chicken toppings for your pizza.
  • Avoid high-salt toppings like cheese or barbecue sauce on burgers and instead opt for a salad.
  • Request for salad dressings or sauces to be served on the sides, so you only eat what you need. Certain dressings and sauces contain high salt content.
  • Order a pasta dish with tomato sauce, vegetables, or chicken instead of cheese sauce, sausage, or bacon.
  • Ask for no salt to be added to your food.
  • Limit dining out and takeaway for special occasions.
Salt taste is a learned preference that can be overcome. Although it takes approximately 6-8 weeks to become accustomed to eating meals with lower salt content, once you do, it becomes difficult to consume things such as potato chips since they're too salty.
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