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March 18, 2011

Shaking the Salt Habit: Smart Steps to
Lower Your Blood Pressure

March 21st through 27th has been designated as World Salt Awareness Week 2011 for good reason. All around the globe and across the USA, people are recognizing that consuming too much salt has serious adverse consequences for their health and wellbeing.

“Salt Awareness Week is the perfect time for Montanans to learn more about their salt intake and how shaking the salt habit can be good for their health,” says Anna Whiting Sorrell, Director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services. “We know that shaking the salt habit is essential for middle-aged and older Montanans, especially those with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and those with diabetes.  Both of these conditions can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.”

Some people are confused about the difference between salt and sodium – and unclear about how to most effectively reduce their intake. Sodium chloride is the chemical name for salt and most of the sodium we consume is in the form of salt. A teaspoon of salt contains about 2,400 milligrams of sodium. The Nutrition Facts label on food packages lists milligrams (mg) of sodium, while the front of packages may refer either to low-sodium or low-salt.

“Americans typically consume about 3,400 mg sodium per day,” explains Dr. Steven Helgerson, state medical officer. “The new 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend less than 2,300 mg, with further reductions to 1,500 mg for anyone over 51 years age and for people with hypertension, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.”

Many Montanans may be surprised to learn that most salt in their diet is not added during cooking or at the table. In fact, the majority of salt consumed in the US – about 75 percent – comes from processed and restaurant foods, frequently in foods that do not even taste “salty.” Here are a few other facts that may surprise you about salt, food and your health:

  • Salt content can vary greatly within the same or similar type of food: Label reading is critical because salt can vary dramatically between similar foods. For example, one slice of whole wheat bread can have twice as much salt as another. An ounce of processed cheese can have 410+ mg of sodium, whereas an ounce of natural cheddar may have only180 mg.
  • Salt can be hidden in foods that aren’t particularly salty: Some ‘top ten’ sources of salt in American diets might not be what you think: meat pizza, white bread, processed cheese, hot dogs, spaghetti with sauce, ham, catsup, cooked rice, white rolls, and flour tortillas.
  • One restaurant entrée can contain a day’s worth of salt or more: Restaurant menus do not usually list salt content, so it can be hard to make smart choices. It is not unusual for entrees to have 2,500 to 3,500 mg of sodium – or for salads with dressing to have 800+ mg.
  • Reducing your salt intake can help to lower your blood pressure within weeks: The good news about shaking the salt habit is that the benefits are almost immediate. Reducing your salt intake can start to lower your blood pressure levels in a little as 3 to 4 weeks.

Seven Steps to Reduce Salt Intake and Lower Blood Pressure

  1. Get fresh with more home-cooked and fewer packaged foods.
    Eating home cooked meals is good for your food budget, good for your salt intake, and good for your health. Since as much as 75 percent of our salt intake comes from processed and restaurant meals, home-cooked foods – featuring whole, fresh ingredients – are one of the smartest, easiest ways to shake the salt habit.


  2. Pile on the produce – more fruits and vegetables really do matter.
    In terms of your blood pressure, fruits and vegetables have two big benefits: (1) They are naturally low in sodium and (2) they are great sources of potassium. Filling at least half your plate with the crunchy goodness of produce at each meal will help you get the potassium that most Americans are missing – and easily cut back on sodium.


  3. Explore the flavorful world of herbs and spices.
    If you salt food without thinking (or even tasting it), it’s time to discover the delicious flavors of herbs, spices, garlic, and citrus. Nearly every TV chef, cookbook author, and website offers lower-sodium recipes these days. The Mayo Clinic has dozens of free recipes at www.mayoclinic.com/health/low-sodium-recipes/RE00101.


  4. Compare food labels for sodium content.
    Food manufacturers have responded to consumer concerns about salt by reducing the sodium in many products without sacrificing flavor. Since sodium levels can be very different between similar products, get into the label reading habit. Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose foods with lower numbers.


  5. Downsize your portion sizes.

    Many restaurant meals are at least two to three times a normal adult portion size – with two to three times the amount of salt and calories than are healthful. By smart-sizing your portions, you can cut back on salt and unneeded calories at the same time. Share an entrée when dining out – or eat half and take half home to enjoy tomorrow.


  6. Seek lower-salt options when dining out.

    When dining out, learn to check out the salt content of meals before you order. Most chain restaurants have nutrition information on their websites, so you can find lower salt options – and any new recipes or campaigns – before you leave your house. In any restaurant, talk to your server and ask for their help in making a better choice.


  7. Call for action on salt in food.

    Restaurants and food manufacturers do respond to consumer concerns, so let your voice be heard. Call toll-free numbers on food packages, send emails to customer service, or ask to speak to the chef when you are dining out. For more information on salt, blood pressure, health, and speaking out on salt, visit these websites:

Page last updated: 07/30/2013