What’s the difference between salt and sodium?
Sodium is a mineral that is naturally present in dairy foods, vegetables and seafood and is also added during the manufacturing of foods. Salt is a combination of sodium and chloride and is the source of the vast majority of sodium we consume.
Do we really need to consume sodium?
Yes, sodium helps regulate blood pressure and is required for muscles and nerves to function. (1) But aside from our nutritional need for sodium, sodium in the form of salt helps our food taste good! Adding salt to food enhances sweetness, heightens the intensity of flavors and helps round out the taste of a dish. (2) Salt can also be used in curing and preserving foods such as bacon, ham and corned beef.
Why is too much sodium a problem?
Researchers believe consuming too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
How much should we consume?
The average American consumes about 3,400mg of sodium a day – the amount in about 1 1/2 tsp of salt. But the amount of sodium we actually need can vary from one person to the next. Athletes need more sodium to replace what they lose in their sweat, while sedentary individuals with high blood pressure may need to be much more cautious about their intake. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends less than 2,300mg of sodium per day (1 tsp of salt) but the American Heart Association has a more cautious recommendation of no more than 1,500mg per day (about 2/3 of a tsp). If you are concerned about sodium in your diet, it might be hard to drastically cut your intake down to these recommended levels all at once. Try starting with small changes that make sense for your needs.
Where does all the sodium come from?
It’s not the salt we add from the shaker at the table that is the biggest problem. More than 75% of the sodium we consume comes from eating out at restaurants and processed foods. (3)
What is being done about excess sodium in the food we eat?
The FDA has recently called on food manufacturers and restaurants to voluntarily reduce the amount of sodium in the products they produce over the next 10 years. (4) Some manufacturers have been proactive in this pursuit, making it easier for consumers to find products with less added salt and sodium. But keep in mind that just because a food is low- or reduced-sodium doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a nutritious choice. Examine all the ingredients on the label and look for more minimally processed, nutrient dense options of the foods you choose.
How can I reduce the amount of sodium I consume?
One of the best ways to reduce the sodium in your diet is to cook more of your meals at home, where you have complete control over the ingredients. When you aren’t cooking from scratch, look for low-sodium broths, rinse canned beans to remove about 40% of the sodium (5) and season foods with spices, fresh herbs and fresh citrus zest and juice. Try saving the salt for last, after the dish is cooked – you’ll get more of the salty flavor while using less salt. (6)
When eating more processed and prepared foods, cutting back on salty snacks is a no-brainer. You’d be surprised at some of the foods that can be high in sodium – like breads, cereals, vegetable juices and even salad dressing! Sodium is in just about everything, so be sure to check the label.
Are some types of salt better than others?
All types of salt contain about 40 percent sodium by weight (the other 60 percent is chloride). But, because the crystals of sea salt or kosher salt may be larger than table salt, a volume measure (a tsp.) may have less sodium than the same amount of regular table salt. In other words, salt is salt and it all contains about the same amount of sodium, but how much you use is really the key.
Himalayan pink salt and other types of sea salts are preferred by some because of the trace amounts of minerals they contain. However, the levels of the minerals in these salts are so minute that there may be little health advantage in choosing them over regular table salt.
Are there other ways diet can help lower my blood pressure?
Increasing the amount of potassium you consume can help balance the effect of sodium on blood pressure. Try eating a diet high in whole foods, including more fruits and vegetables. For optimum health, enjoy salt in moderation.