The fight against consuming too much sodium may start with the salt shaker on the dinner table, but there are bigger, more important battlefields: the kitchen, the supermarket and the restaurant.
It's a battle that needs to be fought. Too much sodium in the diet can contribute to high blood pressure, which accelerates hardening of the arteries, which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other health problems.
The American Heart Association estimates that American adults eat more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, more than double its recommended limit. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says 90 percent of American children munch too much sodium, thanks largely to processed food and fast food, setting the table for health problems later in life.
If you're aiming to lower your sodium intake for the long term, experts recommend a gradual process to acclimate your taste buds — and your kids' — to a healthier regimen. The AHA, CDC and other health advocates offer lots of advice for a lower-sodium lifestyle. Here's some of the best:
In the Kitchen: Cook with fresh ingredients instead of processed whenever possible. If you must use canned beans and other vegetables, rinse them in cold water first. Don't add salt to boiling water, no matter what the recipe says. Make your own soups and sauces. Experiment with other herbs and spices, such as oregano, basil, pepper, garlic and lemon zest, instead of instinctively reaching for the salt.
At the Supermarket: Compare sodium totals on the Nutrition Facts labels. Look for lower-sodium options in everything from soups and breads to popcorn and peanut butter, in the condiment aisle and at the deli counter. And then look again: "Labels can be deceiving," says Emily Robertson, clinical dietitian and patient services manager at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital in Dallas. "So it's important to always look at the number of mg per serving. When a label says 'sodium-free,' it contains less than 5 mg of sodium per serving. But when it says 'reduced sodium,' it is 25% less than the usual sodium level which can still be high." The more fresh food instead of canned or processed, the better.
Dining Out: Check the menu for sodium totals, or scout the restaurant's website before you go. Ask the waiter to prepare the dish without salt, then add what you need yourself. Don't load up the pizza with so much meat and cheese. Order sauces and dressings on the side so you control the amount. Think grilled, baked and roasted instead of fried. Fast food? A treat, not a daily routine.
There's one more arena where health advocates want us to do battle: the public one. The AHA encourages people to contact food companies, restaurant chains and lawmakers at every level to urge they help reduce sodium in the American diet. Learn more about its Sodium Reduction Initiative here.
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