Salt has been used to add flavor to foods, keep foods fresh, make icy roads and sidewalks safer and was even a form of currency in Ancient Rome (the word salary comes from the Latin word salarium – the money allowed to Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt).
Sodium is an essential mineral that the body is unable to make, so it must be supplied by the diet. Although the terms “sodium” and “salt” often are used interchangeably, salt is composed of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride; one teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium.
The food industry has voluntarily been reducing the amount of sodium in its products incrementally and often without fanfare because consumers tend to shy away from products advertised as low or reduced sodium. Only 13 percent of consumers say they would choose a product indicating “low-sodium” compared to other front-of-pack claims or no claims, according to IFIC research.
Managing Your Sodium Intake
Managing sodium intake can seem daunting, but there are some surprisingly simple ways people can reduce the amount of sodium they consume as part of a healthful diet.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. These are important sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber, which can help to lower blood pressure. And a diet rich in potassium has been shown to counter-balance the effects of sodium on blood pressure.
- Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods. Dairy foods offer calcium and protein, which are important parts of an eating plan to lower blood pressure. Aim for two to three servings a day.
- Include nuts, seeds and legumes. These foods contain magnesium, protein, and fiber. Keep an eye on the portion size though, because they tend to be higher in calories, and body weight is an important factor in managing blood pressure.
- Use herbs and spices instead of salt. Add flavor and flair to dishes, while cooking and at the table, with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, or salt-free seasoning blends rather than the salt shaker. When you do use salt, be sure to taste your food before sprinkling, as it may not need additional salt.
- Moderate use of seasoning packets. In packaged mixes for rice, pasta, or soups, use only half of the seasoning packet and boost the flavor with other herbs and spices.
- Rinse and drain canned foods. Running canned vegetables or beans under water before cooking can help reduce the sodium content.
- Take care with condiments. Everyone loves the extra condiments that sit on tables when we eat out, but these condiments can add extra sodium. Try tasting your food before deciding how much of a condiment to add.
- Customize your order. When eating out, request that salt not be added to your dish and ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side so you can control the amount you use.
- Consider the sodium content of all products. People are often surprised to learn that some of the biggest sodium contributors in their diets are foods they do not perceive to be salty. Sodium in foods consumed frequently, such as bread, milk, and cheese, can add up over time, so pay attention to portion size.
- Read and use the information on the food label. Food labels on cans, boxes, bags, and other packaging provide information about the amount of sodium contained in one serving. Replace traditional higher-sodium foods with modified versions.
Definitions of Sodium Content Labeling
The following terms are defined by the Food and Drug Administration:
Sodium free or salt free: Less than 5 mg per serving
Very low sodium: 35 mg or less of sodium per serving
Low sodium: 140 mg or less of sodium per serving
Reduced or less sodium: At least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version
Light in sodium: 50 percent less sodium than the regular version
Unsalted or no salt added: No salt added to the product during processing
The percent Daily Value (DV) on the Nutrition Facts panel can help you determine how an individual item can fit into your daily diet. If the amount of sodium in one serving of food contains five percent or less of the DV for sodium, it is considered low while 20 percent or more is considered high.