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Heart Health

4 Ways to Break The Salt Habit

Although salt is enjoyed by billions of people, it comes with some serious health risks if it’s overused. According to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), it’s been linked to heart attacks, high blood pressure and stroke, as well as kidney damage. Experts at HSPH’s Department of Nutrition have worked with the Culinary Institute of America to create some smart, scientific strategies to cut back on salt while still eating tasty food. Here are four of them:

Easy does it. Change is hard; there’s no need to cut out salt altogether overnight. Instead, focus on reduced-sodium products. According to the HSPH, many restaurants and food manufacturers are in the process of making substantial salt cuts that many consumers won’t be able to detect. In fact, the Harvard and Culinary Institute experts say, the average person can’t detect cutbacks of up to 25 percent in sodium levels. One suggestion from the Harvard and Culinary Institute experts: combined a reduced-sodium version of, say, vegetable soup with a full-strength version, and do it in steps that gradually favor the reduced-sodium soup.

Replace sodium with potassium. We need potassium more than we need sodium, the Harvard experts say. But our diets are the opposite. So focus on good sources of potassium: fruits and vegetables. The Harvard experts suggest that you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables so you can up the presence of potassium. (Editor’s note: But don’t salt the veggies, or have either fruits or vegetables in syrup or sauce.)

Focus on good fats and oils. The Harvard and Culinary Institute experts point out that the low- and no-fat campaigns in the 1990s didn’t have a good scientific basis. In fact, as a result of lower fat content, manufacturers upped the amount of sugar and sodium. Skip most fat-free salad dressings and other fat-free products.

Be on the lookout for sneaky sodium. Meat and poultry that are labeled “fresh” and “natural” may have been injected with salt solutions. Manufacturers aren’t required to list the sodium content on the label. And food that don’t seem salty may have a lot of sodium; the Harvard and Culinary Institute experts cite cereals, energy drinks and sports drinks. Always read available labels.

For additional strategies for cutting back on salt and other ways to prevent and treat high blood pressure, buy Controlling Your Blood Pressure, http://www.health.harvard.edu/special_health_reports/controlling-your-blood-pressue, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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