How to reduce the sodium in your diet

Originally used as a preservative to keep food edible for long periods of time, today salt is most often used to add additional flavor to food.

If you have a chronic disease like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease you need to be aware of how much salt you’re consuming each day as well as the amount of salt you use in food preparation.

If your goal is lowering the amount of sodium you consume each day, summer is a perfect time to start. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium, so summertime, with its’ abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, is the perfect time to make this a goal.

Your first step is to become aware of the sodium in the foods you commonly eat. While some foods such as pizza and prepared soups are obviously high in salt, the salt content of other foods is not so obvious. Which of these foods are higher in sodium: a serving of breakfast cereal like corn flakes or a serving of salted peanuts? If you guessed the peanuts, you’re wrong. Many prepared foods are high in sodium including cereals. Start reading food labels to know just how much sodium you’re actually consuming.

The average adult only needs about 2,300 mg of sodium each day. This is slightly less than one teaspoon. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, that number should be closer to 1,500 mg daily. Adults with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease and increased use of salt is often linked to higher blood pressure.

Your second step is to reduce the use of prepared foods, especially canned soups, sauces, condiments and dinner entrees whether boxed, canned or frozen.

Step three:  reduce the amount of fast food meals you eat. These meals are higher in salt than the same meals made at home.

Step four: start cooking at home. By preparing your own meals, you can control the amount of salt you add to the dish as well as high salt ingredients you add to recipes. For example, try buying no-salt canned or frozen vegetables. Herbs and spices can be used in place of salt to add flavor to all types of recipes.

Step five: make the high-salt meals you eat more nutritious by adding additional fruits or vegetables. Extra veggies can be added to pizza, soup and prepared meals.

Step six: each morning measure one teaspoon of salt into your salt shaker and only use this shaker to flavor your food. When the shaker is empty, you’re out of salt for the day.

Step seven: become a food label reader and compare labels to choose foods lower in salt.

Step eight: enjoy your new taste experience. Salt is a learned taste, so disliking salty food can also be a learned experience.

Try these steps in reducing sodium for a healthier heart and a healthier you! For more information on healthy lifestyles contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

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