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Cutting Sodium

This information was reviewed and approved by Andrew M. Freeman, MD, FACC, FACP (3/31/2014).

The American Heart Association recommends 1500 mg of sodium a day — this is less than a rounded teaspoon (1725 mg). Keep in mind that salt is not only what comes out of the shaker, but also what goes into the food during processing and manufacture. For instance, although you may not add salt to canned or ready-made soup, usually one serving has enough salt for the entire day in just one small bowl.

The number one source of salt in the American diet will surprise you — it’s bread. Two slices of any bread can have up to 500 mg, while many other “non-salty” foods like breakfast cereals and pastries can range anywhere from 600-2000 mg.

Lower salt intake might reduce the incidence of high blood pressure, stroke, or even heart attack. Try these tips for lowering sodium in your diet.

  • Vary your flavoring. Use spices without salt. Use garlic, pepper or spice preparations like Mrs. Dash. If you must use salt, consider using sea salt which is lower in sodium, or potassium chloride, which has no sodium but could still exert blood pressure effects.

  • Avoid lunch meats. Almost any preserved or processed meat such as salami, bologna, ham, sausage and hot dogs are loaded with enough salt — sometimes as much as 2-3 days worth in one sitting.

  • Beware of cheese. Cheese and cheese spreads are often loaded with salt to make them taste good, but look carefully at the amount of sodium in your favorite cheeses.

  • Stay away from prepackaged meats. Prepackaged uncooked meats and chicken breasts often are "brined" in a sodium bath to help improve the flavor.

  • Bouillon cubes. Many people think making soup from scratch with bouillon cubes is low in sodium, but check again. Most cubes are loaded in salt!

  • Watch out for soup. Even so-called "lower sodium" soups can have a full day's supply of sodium in just one cup-size serving.

  • Check the label. Look for sodium on the label. Sometimes it will say "low salt" on the package, but always check the sodium on the label. Also check the serving size. Manufacturers are clever and may make it seem like the product has low sodium, but only for a very small serving size.

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