Salt is a household staple, and most of us don’t think twice about adding a pinch here or a dash there. But lately, salt has come under serious fire for its dangerous health effects if consumed in large quantities—which, as it happens, over 90 percent of us do. Yikes.
Leading to hypertension, heart disease, and potential stroke, high sodium intake is a dangerous habit that can be compared to the likes of smoking and excessive drinking. But most of us have no clue how much salt we actually consume. In today’s market, additives have permeated the majority of our processed and prepared foods, and in no small amount.
Add that to a lack of consciousness about salt guidelines and some pretty confusing food labels, and you have the makings of a serious health issue. In addition, the body’s tendency to adapt to and crave higher levels of salt can create a full-blown addiction that may be difficult to break.
A moderate amount of salt is, of course, critical for health: The right amount of sodium helps to regulate blood pressure and water levels in the body, as well as control nerve and muscle function. But the modern food industry makes salt intake difficult to monitor and even harder to restrict, and too much can have serious—even fatal—consequences.
Here are some facts to put it all in perspective:
—Our bodies need about 180-500mg of sodium per day.
—The recommended amount of sodium intake for most Americans is 1500mg per day, with an upper limit of 2300mg (Adults over 51 years of age, African Americans, those who have high blood pressure or diabetes, and those with kidney disease should stick with 1500mg per day).
—One teaspoon of salt is equal to about 2300mg of sodium.
—The average American aged 2 years and older consumes 3,436mg of sodium per day.
Since the 1970s, salt consumption has increased by 50 percent, and every day we’re eating more than the last. Americans are guilty of gigantic portion sizes and a heavy reliance on processed foods. But some of salt’s worst offenders might not be what you think; even some of your favorite health foods have a shocking amount of hidden sodium:
—1 slice of wheat bread: 170mg
—1 serving of the average bran cereal: 220mg
—1/2 cup of canned tomato sauce: up to 600mg
—1 cup serving of soup: up to 1600mg
—1 serving of canned veggies: up to 800mg
—8oz cup of yogurt: 175mg
Reducing and regulating salt intake can be tough, but following these heart-healthy tips and tricks is a great start. You can also try adding more potassium to your diet. Potassium and sodium have a reciprocal relationship, and consuming more can help mitigate the effects that sodium can have on blood pressure. Most Americans don’t get nearly the amount of dietary potassium that’s recommended. Swiss chard, potatoes and yams, beet greens, soybeans, and spinach, and halibut are all great sources (and, coincidentally, are also naturally low in sodium. Win-win!).