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Shake Your Salt Habit
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 • Posted February 16, 2011

Do you find yourself always adding salt to your food? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. Americans have acquired a taste for a high salt diet and this may largely be due to the amount of sodium consumed from highly processed foods that are so prevalent in the United States.

The primary source of sodium is table salt, or sodium chloride. Sodium chloride, or salt, is made up of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. One teaspoon contains 2300 milligrams (mg) of sodium, the maximum amount you should have in an entire day according to the just-released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And if you are over 50 or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease these Guidelines recommend that you aim for no more than to 1,500 mg sodium a day. However, the typical American consumes 3300 - 4000 mg of sodium each day, with over 75% of that coming from processed foods, such as sauces, canned goods, prepared meats and condiments.

Sodium does play important roles in the body like maintaining fluid balance, regulating muscle contractions and carrying nutrients to cells. But consuming too much can aggravate high blood pressure, cause fluid retention in some people and put stress on your heart. So with February designated as American Heart Month, what better time to shake your salt habit? Although eating less salt may seem a bit daunting, there is light at the end of the tunnel!

Here are simple ways to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet that will not leave your taste buds feeling bland.

· Read the labels of pre-packaged or processed foods. Look for the words "salt," "sodium" or "Na" that indicate sodium is a part of this product. When buying canned goods or other processed items, choose those that have labels touting "low-sodium" or "no added salt".

· When using canned goods, such as beans or tomatoes, drain the juice and rinse to remove any excess sodium before cooking or eating.

· Instead of using salt during cooking, learn ways to use fresh herbs or other salt-free seasonings to add flavor to your foods. Try basil or oregano in Italian dishes and cumin or cilantro in Mexican inspired meals.

· Use vegetables and natural juices to flavor your foods like onions, garlic, peppers and lemon juice. You might surprise your taste buds with these delicious and healthy flavors.

· Eat more fruits and raw vegetables as snacks instead of salty chips. These healthy alternatives will satisfy your snack cravings without all the sodium.

Although it may take a few weeks, eating less and less sodium will eventually change your taste buds so that a high salt diet is not longer appetizing. So make your heart happy and healthy with these flavorful changes.

Anna Turner is a dietetic intern at Texas Health Resources Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas who completed a community nutrition rotation with Neva Cochran in December.

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