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Toss the salt shaker

Alvina Begay, R.D.

Sodium is a mineral that is found in many foods. The body needs sodium to function properly; however, most people consume more sodium than they need. Generally, the recommended sodium intake is 2,300 – 2,400 milligrams (mg) per day. Too much sodium causes fluid retention in the body. This extra fluid can cause the heart and kidneys to work harder than normal, which can then lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and kidney disease. Being aware of the amount of sodium consumed can help avoid these conditions to be avoided.

Many people have made the decision to reduce their sodium intake by simply reducing the amount of table salt they used. Some people are using more natural alternatives to table salt such as sea salt, half salt, all-natural salt or salt substitutes. These are positive changes, but these changes do not replace the need to be aware of the amount of sodium being consumed or exceeding the recommended daily allowance. Often, people think that if it is a different kind of salt, it is healthier and they can continue to use the same amount or even more.

Toss the salt shaker

To control the amount of sodium consumed, the first thing to do is limit or discontinue the use of the common salt shaker found on almost every dining room table and in every kitchen. Sprinkling just a ¼ teaspoon of table salt on your food adds up to about a ¼ of a day’s recommended allowance - 600 mg. It also is a good idea to avoid the use of celery salt, garlic salt and onion salt.

Add flavor – naturally

Instead of salt, use herbs and spices to flavor foods. Products like Mrs. Dash, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, herbs and spices, and salt substitute are healthy food items that add flavor to foods without the sodium. Also try these natural flavor-enhancers:

Herbs: basil, bay leaves, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme. Use fresh or dried herbs.
Spices: allspice, cinnamon, curry powder, ginger, mustard (dry), nutmeg, paprika, pepper (red and black). 
Citrus: lemon juice, lime juice, grated lemon or orange zest. Use in meat, fish and salads for a fresh, clean taste.
The Onion Family: onion, garlic, shallots, scallions, leeks, chives; use raw or cooked; chopped fine or grated.

Watch out for packaged foods

In addition to limiting the use of table salt, it is recommended to avoid food where large amounts of salt or sodium have been added. These foods include, but are not limited to, frozen meals, canned foods, snack foods, packaged starchy foods (stuffing mix, macaroni and cheese), instant-cooking foods (add water and stir), mixes (cake and biscuits), cheese, cured meats and lunchmeats. Condiments like mustard, ketchup, salad dressings and sauces (steak sauce, hot sauce and soy sauce) also contain high amounts of sodium.

When eating out

Limit the number of times you eat out in a week. Homemade meals usually are lower in sodium, calories and fat, and higher in nutritional value. When you do eat out, look at nutrition information available at restaurants to see the sodium content in foods on the menu. Be sure to ask that salt not to be added to foods; request condiments and salad dressings on the side; choose fresh fruit or vegetables dishes for sides or appetizers. These small changes will significantly decrease the amount of sodium consumed and help create a heart-healthy meal.  

Alvina Begay, R.D., is a registered dietitian at Flagstaff Medical Center.