Are You Eating Too Much Salt?

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The Silent Killer

High blood pressure is known as the "silent killer" because the symptoms are not always obvious:

  • It’s one of the major risk factors for heart disease, the No. 1 killer worldwide.
  • It’s the leading risk factor of women’s deaths in the U.S., and the second leading risk factor for death for men.
  • One-third of American adults have high blood pressure. And 90 percent of American adults are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetimes.
  • More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic black adults have high blood pressure. Not only is high blood pressure more prevalent in blacks than whites, but it also develops earlier in life.

Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, eating less sodium can help blunt the rise in blood pressure that occurs with age, and reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and even headaches. The extra water in your body can also lead to bloating and weight gain. No wonder the American Heart Association wants you to change your relationship with salt!

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Sodium and Your Health

Sodium is a mineral that’s essential for life. It helps control your body’s fluid balance and affects muscle function. Extra sodium in your bloodstream pulls water into your blood vessels, which increases blood pressure. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it. Over time, high blood pressure may injure the blood vessel walls and speed the build-up of gunky plaque that can block blood flow. The added pressure also tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body.

Most of us are eating much more sodium than we need. More than 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from packaged and restaurant foods. That can make it hard to control how much you eat, because it is already added to our food before we buy it.

Click here for more information on sodium and your health from the American Heart Association.

1. Choose Packaged and Prepared Foods Carefully

Compare labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium (per serving) you can find in your store. You might be surprised that different brands of the same food can have different sodium levels.

2. Pick Fresh and Frozen Poultry that Hasn't Been Injected with a Sodium Solution

Check the fine print on the packaging for terms like “broth,” “saline” or “sodium solution.” Sodium levels in unseasoned fresh meats are around 100 milligrams (mg) or less per 4-ounce serving.

3. Choose Condiments Carefully

For example, soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, dips, ketchup, jarred salsas, capers, mustard, pickles, olives and relish can be sky-high in sodium. Look for a reduced or lower-sodium version.

4. Choose Canned Vegetables Labeled "No Salt Added" and Frozen Vegetables Without Salty Sauces

When you add these to a casserole, soup, or other mixed dish, there will be so many other ingredients involved that you won’t miss the salt.

5. Look for Products with the American Heart Association's Heart-Check Mark

Look for the Heart-Check Mark to find foods that can be part of an overall healthy dietary pattern. Heart-Check is not a low-sodium program and the Heart-Check mark is not necessarily a sign that a product is “low-sodium”, but it does mean that the food meets AHA’s sodium criteria to have the Heart-Check mark. You can eat foods with varying amounts of sodium and still achieve a balanced and heart-healthy diet. To learn more about the Heart-Check Food Certification Program, visit

Sea Salt vs Table Salt

Is sea salt lower in sodium?

There’s usually little difference in sodium content between the two.

In a survey conducted by the American Heart Association, 61 percent of respondents incorrectly agreed that sea salt is a lower sodium alternative to table salt. Table salt and most sea salts contain about 40 percent sodium by weight.

“It’s very important for people to be aware that sea salt often has as much sodium as table salt,” said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., an American Heart Association spokeswoman and the Bickford Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont.

“One of the keys to maintaining a heart-healthy diet is to control your sodium intake,” she said.

“If you’re consuming more sea salt than you otherwise would because you think it has less sodium, then you may be placing yourself at higher risk of developing high blood pressure, which raises your risk of heart disease.”

Is there a health advantage to eating sea salt?

While some attributes may make sea salt more attractive from a marketing standpoint, Dr. Johnson says there are no real health advantages of most sea salts.

“The minute amounts of trace minerals found in sea salt are easily obtained from other healthy foods,” Dr. Johnson said. “Sea salt also generally contains less iodine than table salt. Iodine has been added to table salt since the 1920s to prevent the iodine-deficiency disease goiter.”

So, which option is better to choose?

The next time you find yourself choosing between kosher salt, sea salt and table salt, remember that it’s probably mostly a matter of letting your taste buds decide. But whichever option you choose, keep in mind that both usually contain the same amount of sodium.

Click here for more information from the American Heart Association.

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