How to Lower Salt in Your Diet

Composite showing various kinds of crudite in different bowls
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Did you know that excess salt is linked to worse health, increased stroke risk and high blood pressure?

Recent research published in The British Medical Journal followed over 20,000 people over an 8-year span. The  study authors reported a significant reduction in death from stroke and heart disease with lowered salt intake. These results are consistent with most research, and even showed that beneficial effects are noticeable within 4 weeks of starting a reduced salt diet.

And, according to news recently released by the American Heart Association, as many as 1 in 4 Americans have an exaggerated response to salt, which can result in more accentuated health problems. 

Even when we know that scientific studies point to an association between reduced salt intake and lowered stroke risk, lowered death from stroke and fewer recurrent strokes, there are still several challenges to controlling salt intake on a day to day basis. It is tough to change your eating and cooking habits, especially if you like the taste of heavily salted food (a common feature of convenient prepared foods.)

Lower Your Salt Intake Without Sacrificing Flavor

  • Drink more decaffeinated beverages. Liquids help lower the overall concentration of salt in your body. Additionally, a high salt concentration is associated with other health problems besides stroke. One of these problems is kidney disease, and well-balanced fluid is often recommended for kidney disease.

  • Cut down on processed foods. Processed foods contain a high amount of salt. Salt helps to preserve food for a long period of time (pickles for example) so that processed food can have a longer shelf life without getting spoiled. Very high sugar content is often balanced out with salt, even in processed foods that are considered sweets and desserts. The end result is high calories AND high salt. Often, we reach for convenient processed foods to satisfy our hunger on-the-go.
  • Learn how to use a variety of spices. Salt is the easiest spice to use. But other seasonings, such as onions, garlic, pepper, basil, oregano, dill, cilantro, cumin, paprika, parsley, ginger, lemon, allspice, nutmeg, mint and many others can add flavor and variety to food without the side effect of raising blood pressure.
  • Be careful with shortcuts. Cooking is challenging and only a few are truly talented. Spice blends and sauces can be a practical tool. But they often contain too much salt. Usually, spice blends include a label with a list of ingredients. One way to lower salt is to buy the separate spices (it is cheaper to buy them separately) and combine them on your own to create a homemade spice blend. Then you can add salt sparingly. Some ready-made seasoning blends are already formulated with low salt or no salt.
  • Add fresh fruit and vegetables to your diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals, natural sugars and a high percentage of water. The natural content of fresh food, particularly when eaten raw, can help balance the salt in the diet. They are also rich in antioxidants, which help fight disease.
  • Adjust your palate. Sometimes people just have to make a change. Adapting and gradually decreasing salt intake while learning to appreciate a variety of flavors and natural foods may take effort, but it is well worth it.
  • Use sauce on the side. Many restaurants serve very high salt sauces because they are convenient, and often prepared well in advance. Most restaurants will agree to serve saucy dishes with the sauce on the side. This allows you to have more control over your salt intake.
  • Follow up on your blood pressure. Changing habits and making sacrifices can be difficult. Watching results is the best motivation for staying on track when it comes to good habits.

Sources

Feng J He, Sonia Pombo-Rodrigues, Graham A MacGregor, Salt reduction in England from 2003 to 2011: its relationship to blood pressure, stroke and ischaemic heart disease mortality, British Medical Journal, April 2014

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