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Johns Hopkins Health Alert

Taking the Salt Away

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The average American consumes approximately 4,000 mg of sodium a day, which is much higher than the recommended 2,300 mg for a healthy, young adult. The terms “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, as 90% of the salt we ingest is in the form of sodium chloride, commonly termed table salt. The remaining 10% comes from other sodium-containing substances such as baking soda and a variety of preservatives.

So what should we do to reduce our salt consumption? Taking salt out of the kitchen and off the dining room table is the first step. But these measures alone won’t make much of a dent in your sodium intake.

That’s because only 10% of American’s sodium intake comes from salt added at the table or in cooking. Another 10% occurs naturally in food. But the vast majority -- 80% -- derives from processed and restaurant foods. And this is where you should focus most of your attention by doing the following:

  • Minimize your intake of processed and packaged foods. Almost all frozen dinners, canned foods, processed meats, savory snacks, bottled sauces and dressings, and condiments are high in sodium.
  • Read labels for sodium content and try to select products that contain less than 200 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Look for foods with reduced-sodium labels. A label that says “low sodium” means the product contains less than 140 mg per serving; “very low sodium” indicates 35 mg or less, and “sodium free” is less than 5 mg. Foods labeled unsalted or no-salt-added contain no or only naturally occurring sodium.
  • Not all manufacturers use labels to draw attention to their reduced-sodium products and not all brands in the same category contain the same amount of salt. For example, the amount of sodium in a cup of canned cream of tomato soup ranges from 340–950 mg, depending on the brand, and the sodium content for various spaghetti sauces runs from 270–770 mg per half cup.
  • Just because a food does not taste salty does not mean that it is low in salt. While potato chips, hot dogs, and pickles are obviously high in salt, so are many breakfast cereals (up to 450 mg per cup) and breads (up to 400 mg for two slices), because they contain sodium-containing ingredients such as baking soda and baking powder.
  • Choose fresh fruits and vegetables more often. These foods are naturally low in sodium and are good sources of potassium, a mineral that helps blunt the blood pressure–raising effects of sodium in the diet.

Posted in Hypertension and Stroke on September 1, 2009


Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Disclaimer


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Health Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the Johns Hopkins editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Johns Hopkins Medicine or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.


Who says salt is bad for me?

Posted by: RICHARD RIETZ | September 5, 2009 7:23 AM

What about using potassium chloride as a substitute?

Apparently this is not always a good idea for CAD sufferers. What is the K-Cl controversy about?

Posted by: heartMonitron | November 28, 2009 1:10 PM

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