Diabetes Forecast

The Benefits of Reducing Salt Intake

By Madelyn L. Wheeler, MS, RD, CDE, FADA, CD, Associate Editor , ,

While we can't live without salt, we really need to start living with less of it.

Yes, salt adds flavor to food, but there's a lot more to it than that. Salt is a combination of about 2 parts sodium to 3 parts chloride, both of which serve functions vital to our health and well-being. Sodium, for example, is a major regulator of the fluid balance in our bodies. But too much sodium can raise blood pressure, a prime risk factor for stroke, coronary heart disease, and kidney disease. This is especially a problem for people with diabetes.

The good news is that as sodium intake decreases, so does blood pressure. In addition, the taste for salt is an acquired one, meaning that when you cut down on salt, within just a couple of weeks you just won't want as much of it.

The minimum amount of sodium required to replace the body's normal losses is estimated to be about 180 mg a day. And yet U.S. adults consume an average of 3,466 mg of sodium daily. The "2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee Report" recommends a goal of 1,500 mg of sodium per day for the general population, the amount in about 2/3 teaspoon of table salt.

Americans get most of their sodium from bread, chicken and beef dishes, pizza and pasta, condiments, Mexican food, cheese, grain-based desserts, soups, cold cuts, sausage, hot dogs, bacon, and ribs. These foods contribute about 56 percent of the sodium in the average American's diet, or nearly 2,000 mg a day.

So how can we cut down? Reading food labels is a good first step. The nutrition facts list sodium content. Here's a decoder for other label terms:

Sodium-Free or Salt-Free: no more than 5 mg of sodium per serving.
Very Low Sodium: no more than 35 mg of sodium per serving.
Low Sodium: no more than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
Reduced or Less Sodium or Salt: at least 25 percent less sodium (or salt) than the salted type of this food.
Light or Lite in Sodium: at least 50 percent less than the salted type.
No Salt Added or Unsalted: while no salt has been added, this may not be a sodium-free food.

Some other ways to keep sodium under control (your dietitian can offer more):

• Taste food before you add any salt.
• Eat fewer processed foods.
• Eat more fruits and vegetables.
• Don't have a salt shaker on the table.
• Use your favorite fresh herbs in place of salt.
• Drain and rinse canned vegetables or beans, which can reduce the sodium by at least a third.

Finally, give yourself time to adjust to the taste of foods with less salt. Your health is definitely worth it!



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