Features September 2018 Issue

Hidden Sources of Salt May Be Raising Your Blood Pressure

Cut back on processed, packaged and prepared foods to lower your heart risk.

Which of the following food choices would be best for a low-sodium lunch?

- A turkey sandwich on presliced whole-wheat bread spread with 1,000 Island dressing

- A bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on toasted white bread with mayonnaise

- A green salad with vegetables, croutons and bottled ranch dressing

- Canned tomato soup with a grilled-cheese sandwich

- Chinese take-out

The answer is: none. Lunch meats, cured meats, commercially baked breads, bottled salad dressings, canned soups, processed cheeses, soy sauce and flavor enhancers, such as MSG (used in Chinese cooking) are almost always high in sodium, the main ingredient in salt.

So what’s the issue? Most of us consume far more sodium than we need. This can raise our blood pressure and, over time, damage the lining of our arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), cutting back on salt intake could prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths a year.

And it’s not hard to reduce your salt intake, if you know where it is hidden.

The Worst Offenders

In general, normal use of salt at home is not the reason most of us consume too much sodium. Instead, it’s food that others prepare for us that poses the most danger.

“Restaurant foods can be salt bombs, because chefs want to make sure we like the taste, and for the most part, salt makes food taste better,” says Cleveland Clinic dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD. “That being said, unless you eat out every day, more than 70 percent of your total sodium intake likely comes through commercially prepared processed foods.”


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It’s no surprise that bacon, sausage and lunchmeats are sky-high in sodium. But many top offenders don’t taste salty. These include ketchup, bread, processed cheese, breakfast cereals, bottled salad dressings, canned soups and nearly any frozen, boxed food. That means you have to make an extra effort to read labels in order to understand the sodium content of what you are eating.

“Most of my patients are tuned into sugar, calories and carb levels. They don’t look for sodium levels until they develop high blood pressure or have a heart attack,” says Kirkpatrick.

How to Eat Less Sodium

Unless your physician instructs you otherwise, it’s not necessary to give up salt entirely to reduce your cardiovascular risk. Simply cutting back will be beneficial.

Here’s how you can do it:

Start by eating out less. “Restaurant foods keep your sodium taste buds revved,” says Kirkpatrick.

Stock fewer frozen foods at home. “For convenience, cook more than you need and freeze leftovers. They will be lower in sodium than the boxed frozen foods you buy,” she says.

Reassess your snack foods. Buy low-salt or unsalted versions.

Cook more often at home to control the amount of sodium you ingest.

Replace high-sodium, store-bought foods with fresh alternatives. For example, instead of buying lunchmeat, roast a chicken or turkey and slice it for sandwiches.

Wait until your food is cooked to salt it lightly, or use mixed-herb seasonings.

Use “light” or “low-sodium” salt as a bridge to lower- or no-sodium use.

Don’t expect to make changes overnight. “It takes time for taste buds to adjust to less salt, but just as you can get used to less sugar, you can get used to eating less salt and having food taste just great,” says Kirkpatrick.

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