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December 19, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sometimes you can detect its taste, and sometimes you can’t. Salt can sneak into meals from foods like bread, soda, chicken breast, salad dressing and soup.

Researchers have linked high salt intake to fluid accumulation and high blood pressure, prompting the American Heart Association to update their dietary guidelines. People with high blood pressure or at risk for hypertension should eat less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, equal to approximately a half-teaspoon.

“The solution is simply to eat smarter,” said Dr. Martha Gulati, director of preventive cardiology and women’s cardiovascular health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “A diet low in salt, not only reduces your risk of developing high blood pressure, but also could reduce the risk of a heart attack in the future.” 

The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center is leading by example, where Gulati led the movement to remove salt from cafe tables. She hopes removing salt shakers will become second nature for people to eliminate this unhealthy addition from their meals.

“Removing salt shakers from our cafes reminds patients, visitors and staff that we are here to keep them healthy and prevention is key,” said Jim Warner, program director of nutrition services, who helped Gulati take away salt shakers from the Season’s Cafés, the hospital’s multi-location restaurant brand. 

If all Americans consumed only the recommended dose of sodium daily, 150,000 lives would be saved from heart disease, according to the American Medical Association.

“You can become smarter about what you eat, but your food doesn’t have to become boring, bland or uninteresting,” said Gulati. She shares these tips with her patients to help them make healthy food choices:

  • Watch the condiments. Ketchup and salad dressing can be very high in sodium, so look for the low-salt versions and watch how much you add onto your meal. Just one tablespoon of soy sauce contains nearly 1,000 milligrams of sodium.
  • Use spices and herbs. Use them while cooking or just before you eat to add flavor without using salt. A squirt of lemon, lime or vinegar can also dress up food. People often add salt to guacamole, but just lime gives it the flavor it needs.
  • Less is more. Sea salt is still salt. It isn’t healthier for you, but since it has more taste, it can be used sparingly for a similar flavor. However, if you are using just as much sea salt as regular salt, it is equally as unhealthy.
  • Wash canned or frozen vegetables. It is cheaper to buy canned vegetables or frozen vegetables, but they can have added salt to preserve the food. Look for no-sodium added canned foods, or rinse  them to wash at least half of the extra salt away.
  • Get smarter about labels. Look beyond the word “sodium” on food labels. Words like “soda,” sodium bicarbonate or baking soda, and “MSG,” monosodium glutamate, mean sodium is present.  Also watch portion sizes.
  • Think natural. Salt already naturally occurs in our food, accounting for about 12 percent of the sodium we consume. Avoid takeout and processed food, and stick to fruits and vegetables to help significantly reduce the remaining salt intake.

A typical menu for a day, following the 1,500 milligrams of sodium recommendations, might look like this:

  • Breakfast: 1 sandwich thin, 1 large egg, 1 slice Canadian bacon, 2 slices low fat and low sodium cheese, 1 cup skim milk
  • Morning snack: 1/4 cup unsalted almonds
  • Lunch: 1.6 ounce hamburger and condiment including lettuce, tomato, onions, 1 teaspoon mustard,  a 16 ounce diet soda, a small side salad with low fat Italian dressing, using only a fourth of the packet, or oil and vinegar
  • Afternoon snack: light Greek yogurt
  • Dinner: 4 ounces of no-salt added grilled chicken breast, 1 cup of pasta and 1 cup of broccoli, prepared with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of parmesan cheese

Contact: Gina Bericchia, Wexner Medical Center Public Affairs & Media Relations, 614-293-3737,