Salt and sodium are not the same. Often, we use the terms interchangeably, but only 40% of salt is made up of sodium. The other 60% is chloride. Salt (sodium chloride) is the major contributor of sodium in our diets. One teaspoon of table salt contains about 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
Sodium is essential for good health and life itself. We need to eat a small amount of sodium because the body cannot manufacture this mineral. Also, it is almost impossible to totally eliminate sodium from one’s diet because it occurs naturally in most foods including meats, poultry, dairy products and vegetables.
Sodium and sodium-containing ingredients play many important roles during food processing. Of course sodium makes many foods simply taste better, but it also helps preserve and keep foods safe by inhibiting the growth of bacteria, yeasts and molds. For example, sodium-containing compounds are added to ready-to-eat meats and processed cheese products to prevent spoilage and the growth of harmful bacteria. In fermented foods, such as pickles, salt helps to draw moisture out of foods, resulting in a pickled food with a crisp texture. Salt is added to breads to improve texture and sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, is used as a leavening agent in baked goods to increase volume and tenderness.
Health experts suggest choosing a diet moderate in salt and sodium. The current recommendation for healthy people is to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Some individuals may need to have a daily sodium intake of less than 2,300 milligrams per day, as recommended by their health professional. If you are over 51 years old, an African American of any age, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, the recommended intake is 1500mg or less per day.
Getting a Read on High Blood Pressure
Many factors are associated with high blood pressure (hypertension) including family history, body weight, one's age and, for some people, sodium intake. High blood pressure is one factor that increases the chance of heart disease and strokes, but the exact causes of high blood pressure and how to prevent it are not fully understood.
Who is at Risk for Hypertension?
One of the most effective ways to manage hypertension is to keep your body weight within a healthful range. Keep physically active and watch your total calorie intake. Regular physical activity - even a moderate amount - can aid in weight loss and help reduce high blood pressure in some people.
Not all older people have hypertension, but the chances of having high blood pressure increase as we grow older.
Certain Ethnic Groups
Due to genetic factors, African Americans tend to have higher rates of hypertension. Scientists are currently researching these genetic factors so that more prevention and treatment measures can be developed.
Tips for Reducing Sodium
- Buy fresh veggies or frozen ones without any sauce. Look for “no-salt-added” canned vegetables.
- Purchase fresh meats, poultry and fish more often than canned or processed versions.
- There’s no need to add salt when cooking rice, pasta and hot cereals.
- Select reduced sodium soups and broths.
- Rinse and drain canned beans (kidney, garbanzo, cannellini) before using.
- Opt for low- or reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added versions of foods.
- Experiment with herbs and spices (see pairings below)
You can still have great flavor without adding salt to foods. Examples of common pairings:
Beef: pepper, nutmeg, onion, sage, thyme
Pork: garlic, onion, pepper, sage, oregano, rosemary
Chicken: ginger, citrus, poultry seasoning, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, curry
Fish: dill, citrus, paprika, dry mustard
Corn: cumin, onion, parsley
Potatoes: dill, garlic, onion, parsley
Tomatoes: basil, dill, onion, oregano, parsley
Label Terms for Sodium
Here's what food product labels tell you about sodium:
Sodium Free - Less than 5 milligrams sodium per serving
Low Sodium - 140 milligrams or less sodium per serving
Reduced/Lower Sodium - At least 25% less sodium per serving when compared to a similar food
No Salt Added - No salt is added during processing (when this product is normally processed with salt). The product may not be a sodium free food, so check Nutrition Facts.