How much salt do you eat? Chances are, you consume more than you think. The recommended sodium intake for adults is 2,400 mg a day, which sounds like a lot until you realize how much hidden salt is in the food you eat. A large burger at a fast food restaurant may contain 1,200 mg of sodium. A can of soup may have more than 1,000 mg, while a small can of vegetable juice can give you 650 mg of sodium. In fact, 77 percent of your daily salt intake probably comes not from the shaker, but from processed foods.
While you may think of foods like French fries and nuts as high in salt, processed foods often contain much more. You don’t notice it, because you don’t taste it the way you taste the salt on a handful of nuts or a couple of French fries. One ounce of roasted, salted nuts has about 100 mg of sodium, but because the salt is on the outside of the nuts, it hits your taste buds first, giving you the salty flavor.
While we tend to use “sodium” and “salt” interchangeably, salt refers to the dietary mineral found naturally in some foods. Sodium chloride, or table salt, is the salt that raises your risk of health problems, including high blood pressure, and is the one you want to limit. Even if your blood pressure is normal, new research shows keeping your salt intake low can help your arteries stay healthy and reduce your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke sometime in the future. Need a more immediate reason to cut back? Too much salt can also cause you to retain water and feel bloated.
But while too much salt is a bad thing, consuming less than 500 mg per day isn’t healthy either. Sodium works with potassium to help regulate fluid balance in the body. Sodium is also essential for proper nerve function, metabolizing proteins and carbohydrates, and maintaining the body’s acid/alkali balance, which is important for overall health. But not all salt is nutritionally equal—choose kosher or sea salt as both contain natural minerals and slightly less sodium content than regular table salt.
To lower your sodium intake, read the Nutrition Facts label on foods to check how much sodium they contain. Aim for less than 2,400 mg per day. Eat fewer processed foods and more fresh food that’s naturally low in sodium. If you do buy processed foods like soup, vegetable juice, and frozen dinners, look for low-sodium versions and cut back on the amount of condiments you use. Ketchup, mustard, relish, and salad dressings all contain sodium. Using a variety of spices and herbs can help add flavor to your food without the extra sodium your body doesn’t need. And remember the taste for salt is learned—which means once you get used to eating less, you won’t miss it.