6 easy steps to reduce sodium in your diet

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Sodium is beneficial to your health. It's true! 500 milligrams of sodium a day helps to maintain normal blood pressure, as well as healthy muscle and nerve function.

But 500 milligrams is less than the weight of a small paperclip – and in the United States we get more sodium than that. A lot more. Even though daily recommendations vary between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams, the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams a day.

When you eat too much sodium, your body retains more fluid, leading to high blood pressure as well as kidney, heart and brain damage.

According to the American Medical Association, if every American consumed 1,500 milligrams of sodium or less per day, 150,000 lives could be saved from heart disease every year.

“It’s really about eating smarter,” says Kavita Sharma, MD, director of prevention at Ohio State’s Heart and Vascular Center. “Cutting salt in your diet can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure as well as your risk of having a heart attack.”

Cut the salt, keep the flavor

Smarter eating doesn’t have to mean boring eating. Here are 6 tips to cut the salt and keep your meals tasty:

1. Don’t add so much table salt.

This seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of foods are high in sodium even before you pick up the saltshaker. If you can’t manage without a pinch, try sea salt instead. It’s not healthier for you, but sea salt is packed with flavor, which may help you go further with less.

2. Find flavor in herbs and spices.

A little garlic, cayenne or dill can punch up a dish without all the sodium. Lemon, lime and vinegar can also give your meal a boost in flavor.

3. Skip the condiments or choose low sodium versions.

Ketchup and prepackaged salad dressings are high in salt, and just one tablespoon of soy sauce contains nearly 1,000 milligrams of sodium.

4. Wash canned or frozen vegetables.

Salt is often used as a preservative in canned or frozen foods. Go for options labeled “no sodium added” or rinse the vegetables well to get rid of excess salt.

5. Read nutrition labels.

Salt is sneaky. When you take a moment to read nutrition labels in the grocery store, you’ll find it in many foods you wouldn’t suspect, like breakfast cereal, cottage cheese and flour tortillas. And be sure to add up: Ingredients that seem low in sodium by themselves may make for a salty dish when combined.

6. Think natural.

12 percent of the sodium we consume occurs naturally in food. In order to reduce additional salt intake, stick to fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid processed foods (think: boxes, bags and cans).

Low-sodium meal plan: A one-day look at a low-sodium diet

Think you can't do it? We bet you can. Here’s a sample day of meals that gets you in under 1,500 milligrams of sodium (and it's healthy, too!):

Breakfast:

  • 1 large hard boiled egg: 62 mg
  • 1 slice uncured turkey bacon: 200 mg
  • 1 slice whole wheat toast: 112 mg
  • 1 cup of skim milk: 127 mg
  • 1 cup coffee: 5 mg
  • ½ a grapefruit: 0 mg

Morning snack:

  • ¼ cup unsalted almonds: 1 mg

Lunch:

  • 1.6 oz hamburger with lettuce, tomato, onion and mustard: 254 mg
  • Whole wheat bun: 206 mg
  • 1 can diet soda: 35 mg
  • Small side salad: 70 mg
  • Olive oil and vinegar for dressing: 0 mg

Afternoon snack:

  • Light Greek yogurt: 45 mg

Dinner:

  • 4 oz no-salt added grilled chicken breast: 70 mg
  • 1 cup pasta: 3 mg
  • 1 cup broccoli: 49 mg
  • Prepared with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese: 76 mg

Total sodium: 1315 mg

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