Did you know that 90% of Americans aged 2 and up consume too much sodium? The American Heart Association recommends keeping our sodium intake to 1,500 mg or less per day— that’s only a half of a teaspoon of salt. That’s because too much sodium can raise blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. But most Americans consume 3,400 mg or more. Even if you don’t use the salt shaker, you could still be getting too much sodium since much of the sodium we eat comes from packaged and restaurant foods.
Want to cut back your sodium consumption and keep your blood pressure in check? Here are a few strategies that will make a big difference:
- Cook more at home. Base your meals around plenty of whole plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts and whole grains which are naturally low in sodium. Flavor your food with fresh or dried herbs, spices, citrus, and vinegars. When cooking with salt, add it at the end of the cooking process because you’ll need less to add flavor.
- Eat more plants. Many plant-foods like fruits, vegetables, and beans are also a good source of potassium, a mineral which can counteract the blood pressure rising effects of sodium. 3. Read packaged food labels. Some foods that don’t even taste salty like breakfast cereals, breads, desserts and protein bars can be loaded with sodium. A good rule of thumb for is to choose packaged foods with less than 200 mg of sodium per serving. Keep in mind if you eat double the serving size, you are eating double the sodium.
- Snack smart. Low-sodium snacks can still taste great. There are many nutritious packaged snacks that don’t overdo it on the sodium — just look at the nutrition facts label. Need ideas? Here are some of my favorites:
- Apples with nut-butter
- Raw veggie sticks (such as celery, carrots, bell pepper) with hummus
- Low sodium tortilla chips with guacamole
- Greek yogurt with chia seeds and berries
- DIY trail mix using raw nuts/seeds, chocolate chips and dried fruit
- BeBOLD bars (any flavor!)
Have fun in the kitchen and try recreating a favorite restaurant dish with your own lower sodium-spin. Take a second to check the sodium content of packaged foods when you are shopping. Swap out a salty snack for something with more whole food ingredients. You’d be surprised. Try it for a week and you will see the true flavors of food coming out themselves. Cutting back on sodium doesn’t have to mean losing the flavor!
Lindsay Ducharme is a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in renal nutrition. She owns Lindsay Ducharme Nutrition, a virtual private practice focused on helping those with kidney disease use plant-based nutrition to maintain kidney function so they can potentially avoid dialysis.