Limit Salt, Not Flavor

Salt is good for some things.

Sodium, or salt, is essential to enhancing flavor and inhibiting the growth of food-borne pathogens, especially in luncheon meats and cheese products. It also helps to maintain the right balance of fluids in your body, but in high doses, salt increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

To keep your heart healthy, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you limit the amount of salt in your diet to 1,500 mg a day, about three-quarters of a teaspoon, way less than the 3,436 mg of salt Americans on average consume.

How can you limit the amount of salt you get every day? Reading the Nutrition Facts label on food products is a good place to start.

Here's the AHA's guidance on how to interpret some common terms and their meanings:

  • Sodium-free-Less than five milligrams of sodium per serving
  • Very low-sodium-35 milligrams or less per serving
  • Low-sodium-140 milligrams or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium-Usual sodium level is reduced by 25 percent
  • Unsalted, no salt added or without added salt-Made without the salt that's normally used, but still contains the sodium that's a natural part of the food itself

The bottom line? Avoid products containing more than 200 mg of sodium per serving.

Lose the Salt Shaker

But it's not enough to just be aware of the amount of salt contained in the processed or packaged foods you buy to keep your salt intake under control, you have to also refrain from adding salt to home-cooked meals and even remove the salt shaker from the dinner table.

To wean yourself off your taste for salt, the Mayo Clinic recommends decreasing your use of salt gradually to give your taste buds a chance to adjust. Start by using no more than one-quarter teaspoon of added salt daily and gradually reduce to no salt add-ons.

Adding herbs, spices and other flavorings to your meals in place of salt will help keep you heart-healthy without sacrificing the taste of foods. Some spices and herbs to try include:

  • Oregano, great added to sliced tomatoes and to pasta and pizza dishes
  • Dried red peppers can add some fiery flavor to foods, including fish
  • Rosemary can be added to marinades for meats and tomato sauces
  • Thyme can be used in salad dressings and creamy dips and sprinkled on cooked vegetables and fish for added flavor