Hold the Salt Please!                                      

By Keisha Lewis, Program Coordinator, NCBA Health Programs

One of the true spices of life, salt has many functions in our food supply and occurs naturally in many foods.   Sodium chloride (otherwise known as salt) can be used to preserve food and inhibit growth of food-borne pathogens, thus making our food supply safer.  Sodium is also an essential nutrient used to maintain the body's chemical balance, while boosting flavors, binding ingredients, and enhancing color.  

Sodium can be found organically as well as added to some of our favorite foods, but very little is needed in our diets.  U.S. consumers have been over indulging, and according to new government guidelines, we should all be mindful of daily salt consumption.  On average, Americans consume 3,436 mg sodium daily.  New guidelines suggest a maximum daily intake of 2,300 mg of salt for a healthy adult and 1500 mg for African Americans, people over 51, and those with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney problems. 

Excessive salt intake is linked to blood pressure issues, increases in strokes, heart disease, and kidney failure.  Therefore, buyers must be aware of hidden sources of sodium.  Foods that carry major sources of sodium include: Tomato sauce, soups, condiments, canned foods, and prepared foods. 

Sodium is an acquired taste, and for many, it takes about 8-12 weeks to shift the taste buds to a salt-less palate.

To decrease our sodium intake, try the following: 

  • Use spices such as basil, sage, thyme, cilantro, nutmeg, cumin, and pepper.
  • Avoid processed foods.  Many processed foods have higher amounts of sodium in them to help preserve the shelf life.
  • Skip condiments that you tend to over indulge in.
  • Choose fresh or frozen vegetables over canned veggies, and when canned vegetables are your only option, choose items with no added salt. 
  • Limit salty snacks like chips and pretzels.
  • Avoid placing the salt shaker on the table.  Move it out of plain sight.

In an effort to reduce chronic conditions in our communities, perhaps we all should hold the salt.  The American Heart Association is working with other federal agencies to reduce the amount of sodium in the food supply, but in the meantime, we can all assess our risks and become informed about other options.