The CDC Says 90 Percent of Americans Eat Too Much Salt: Here's How to Cut Down
These simple tips will transform your heart health, experts say.
Eating too much salt can raise your risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart attack, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's what makes their next warning so alarming: They say that over 90 percent of Americans eat too much salt.
According to the most recent guidelines, adults should limit their intake of sodium to 2,300 milligrams per day. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that most people consume between 9,000 and 12,000 milligrams daily—an amount that could severely jeopardize one's health.
The good news? Even a moderate reduction to 5,000 milligrams or less can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of cardiovascular complications, says the WHO.
Read on to learn six ways to cut down on your salt intake for better heart health.
Read nutrition labels and budget your intake.
To cut down on salt, think of your overall intake as a sodium budget, then piece together meals that together fall within the recommended range.
The simplest way to do this is to familiarize yourself with nutrition labels on any product that comes packaged, and opt for products that contain the least sodium. "When buying prepared meals, look for those with less than 600 milligrams (mg) of sodium per meal, which is the upper limit set by the Food and Drug Administration for a meal or main dish to be labeled 'healthy,'" advises the CDC.
Consider serving sizes.
As you read the sodium contents on nutrition labels, it's important to bear in mind that these numbers pertain to a single serving size—meaning that if you eat more than a single serving, you can quickly double or triple your sodium intake.
By checking the number of servings per container and being mindful of your portions, you can ensure that you don't blow your salt budget without realizing it. Loading your plate up with fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins can help you crowd out salty foods.
Swap processed foods for whole ingredients.
Though sprinkling salt on top of a dish can up your sodium intake, the vast majority of the salt you eat likely comes from processed or pre-packaged foods. That's why the CDC recommends swapping processed items for fresh, whole ingredients whenever possible.
Not sure which specific items to avoid? The health authority recommends against foods with pre-made sauces, spice mixes, or other "heat and eat" components, as these are typically loaded with sodium. They add that you should always buy fresh meat over cured, salted, or smoked meat to bring your sodium levels down.
Replace salt with flavorful, sodium-free ingredients.
Removing excess salt from your diet can leave your food tasting bland if you're used to eating sodium in larger quantities. However, adding flavorful, salt-free ingredients can help make your dietary changes more enjoyable—and therefore more sustainable.
Wondering where to begin? Try cooking with salt-free spices, onions, garlic, citrus juice, fresh herbs, or spicy peppers, to name just a few salt-free additions. Experiment with different flavors until you find lower-sodium meals that get you excited about cooking and eating.
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Be mindful when dining out.
Dining in restaurants and ordering takeout can greatly increase your sodium intake without your knowledge. Experts advise that you should opt for home cooked meals as often as possible, reserving fast food or restaurant meals for the occasional treat.
When you do dine out, you can always request that no salt be added to your meal, or ask which items on the menu contain the least amount of salt. You may also consider limiting your portions by splitting a meal with someone else, or saving half for later.
Be patient—change takes time.
Even if you cut out salt cold turkey, you may struggle with the adjustment in the earliest weeks or months. According to the National Kidney Foundation, "salt preference is an acquired taste that can be unlearned. It takes about six to eight weeks to get used to eating food with much lower quantities of salt, but once it's done, it's actually difficult to eat foods like potato chips because they taste way too salty."
In the meantime, be patient with yourself and focus on the incremental benefits you'll gain by lowering your salt intake over time. Once you adjust to your new normal, you'll less often crave the salty foods that put your heart health at risk.