One in four adults has high blood pressure, or hypertension, which is a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease. Research shows that increased sodium consumption can increase blood pressure. About 90% of the sodium in our diets comes from the salt we consume. On average, American adults consume twice the recommended sodium intake of 1500 mg daily.
Changing your dietary habits can help to reduce sodium consumption. A majority of the sodium consumed is from processed foods—not salt that is added in cooking or at the table. Learning to read food labels and recognize foods that are high in sodium is the first step in reducing sodium consumption. A change in diet can also help reduce your sodium intake.
Start by trying this 3-week approach to cutting back on the 6 most common and salty foods:
Focus on cutting back on:
- Breads and rolls
- Cold cuts, and
- Cured meats, which include bacon, sausage, ham, and hot dogs.
Start tracking your sodium consumption by checking food labels and writing down how much sodium you have reduced. You may be surprised at how much sodium you were truly eating.
Choose alternatives for:
- Pizza: You do not have to give up pizza; just make a few changes in the toppings. Cut back on the cheese and meats (which have more sodium) and add more veggies (like onions, green peppers, and mushrooms).
- Poultry: Fried, canned, and processed poultry contains a lot of sodium. Try fresh poultry instead.
Keep logging how much sodium you are reducing in your diet.
Find ways to reduce sodium in:
- Canned soups, which are loaded with sodium. For example, one serving (one cup) of chicken noodle soup can have as much as 940 mg of sodium—more than half of the daily recommended allowance! Each can of soup has two servings, so if you eat the whole can in one sitting, you may have already consumed more than the daily recommended allowance. Read labels carefully to find canned soups with lower sodium. It is best to make your soup from scratch to reduce sodium intake.
- Sandwiches: When preparing sandwiches, use lower sodium meats, cheeses, and condiments. Add plenty of low-sodium vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, spinach and onions to your sandwich.
After a few weeks, your taste buds will adjust and you will start to enjoy the real flavor of food without the salt. In fact, you will wonder how you ever ate food that was so salty! Decreasing the sodium in your diet is a heart-healthy step to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
And if you already have high blood pressure, visit your health care provider regularly and take medication as prescribed. If your blood pressure returns to normal levels, this indicates that the medication is working so keep taking it.