I have been told that salt is unhealthy. Should I eliminate it completely from my diet or is there a healthy amount that I should eat?

Salt is a combination of sodium and chloride. Our bodies do need some sodium, as it helps transport nerve impulses, influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles and helps maintain adequate fluid balance. However, people that consume excess sodium are at risk for certain types of cancer, heart disease and kidney disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that we limit our sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day. The recommendations are reduced even further to 1,500 mg/day if you’re age 51 or older, or if you are African American, or if you have high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, or diabetes. On average a typical American consumes far more then these recommendations and we consume a whopping 3,400 mg of sodium a day.

We consume sodium from a variety of sources. There is some sodium that occurs naturally in various foods like vegetables, dairy products, meat, and shellfish. Prepared or processed foods often contain a lot of salt. Foods like pizza, cold cuts, bacon, soup, and prepared pasta dishes are just a few examples that usually contain excess sodium. Other areas that we consume too much sodium include condiments (soy sauce, marinades, salad dressings) and adding extra salt to our food at the table.

If you find that you regularly consume too much sodium, I would first identify areas that are easiest for you to reduce salt intake. If you add salt at the dinner table, I suggest removing the salt shaker from the table and begin to retrain your taste buds to enjoy the natural flavor of the food. You can experiment with adding fresh herbs to dishes also to give food a little kick. Opt for low sodium products when possible, or better yet, begin choosing less processed/more natural foods (fresh meat vs. deli meat and fresh fruit and vegetables vs. canned options). I recommend beginning to check food labels also. If you are familiar with how much salt is in various items you can plan your daily food intake accordingly. Try to limit purchasing products that have >300 mg of sodium per serving.

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