Diet & Nutrition

6 Ways to Kick the Salt Habit

There’s no doubt we all need a little bit of salt each day. But we’re eating way, way too much of it. Experts have differed in the amount of salt needed each day. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 1,500 mg a day. On the other hand, a recent, controversial study convened at the request of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came up with a limit of 2,300 mg a day.

No matter what number you decide to go for, it will probably involve cutting back on salt: The average American is said to ingest 3,400 mg per day. And too much can boost blood pressure and put pressure on the heart and blood vessels. The experts at Harvard Medical School recommend the low-sodium Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. That eating plan is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also contains moderately high consumption levels of nuts and low-fat dairy products; and low amountss of red and processed meats.

The experts at Harvard also recommend these six strategies:

1. Focus on unprocessed or minimally processed food. These are likely to have the lowest amount of sodium. Food that’s been canned, processed or frozen can have added salt. .

2. Read labels for sodium content. If you buy processed foods, the Harvard experts say, pick items where the sodium content is the same or lower than the number of calories per serving.

3. Know where to look for hidden sodium. The Harvard experts advise thinking twice about foods like white bread, processed cheese, ketchup and cooked rice.

4.  Choose low-salt (or at least lower-salt) options when eating out. Fast-food meals  have more than 6.000 mg per serving. Skip the super-size meals. Try sharing a dish find lower-sodium choices. Check the online menu of the restaurant you’re going to. You can also ask, the Harvard experts say, to ask that your dish be prepared with less salt.

5. Be smart about budgeting your daily sodium intake. Don’t chow down on salty snacks. Instead, the Harvard experts say, use small amounts of sodium to enhance the flavor of produce, whole grains, nuts and legumes.

6. Make the change gradually.  You can learn to like lower-sodium foods if you take it one step at a time. If you make just one change and stick to it, you can move on to another. Eventually, you’ll find that you won’t miss the salt.

For more on the DASH diet, click here. To get even more expert help on adjusting your salt habit and maintaining healthy habits in general, buy Healthy Eating, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.