Too Much or Too Little: Get the Right Amount of Salt for a Healthy Diet

The average amount of salt in the American diet is twice the necessary DV (daily value). A key to eating healthy is choosing foods lower in sodium and salt, which is a mixture of sodium and chloride. The current DV is less than 2,400 mg of sodium a day. That is one teaspoon of salt!

Too Little Salt

A diet low in sodium may put people with chronic illness or the elderly at risk for hyponatremia. Hyponatremia, also known as low blood sodium, is difficult to diagnose unless a blood test is administered. Symptoms usually include nausea, headaches, confusion, lethargy and loss of consciousness. The elderly are more at risk of developing hyponatremia as the aging body may not metabolize sodium as efficiently as it once did. Difficulty with sodium absorption can be exacerbated for those on pain medications, antidepressants, and diuretics. Other risk factors for developing hyponatremia include chronic illnesses such as Addison’s Disease, cirrhosis, dehydration, hypothyroid and heart or kidney failure. It is very important to listen to your body and take note of any symptoms—and to contact a medical professional if needed.

Too Much Salt

For those with high blood pressure or hypertension no more than 1,500 mg per day of sodium is recommended. Research has shown that a diet with 1,500 mg of daily sodium intake or less not only keeps blood pressure from rising, but also allows blood pressure medicines to work more efficiently. Consuming too much salt can worsen high blood pressure symptoms, such as swelling, shortness of breath—and can cause weight gain.

Reducing Salt...One Grain at a Time

Since many of us consume too much salt, the following recommendations and tips are a good way for the average person to reduce their salt intake.

Avoid adding salt to foods at the table or during cooking, such as cooking noodles, rice and hot cereals in salted water. Instead use spices and herbs for flavor.

Reduce the amount of salt—and seasonings that contain sodium—in recipes.

  • Eat more fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry. Also consume less convenience and packaged goods that are usually flavored with high amounts of sodium. Check food labels to see how much sodium is in a packaged food item.
  • Try to choose products that have less than 800 mg of sodium per serving. Salt substitutes are fine to use as long as sodium isn’t on the ingredient label.
  • Condiments, like soy sauce, steak sauce and Worcestershire sauce, are high in sodium; try cooking with lemon juice and vinegar to add flavor.
  • When buying canned or packaged foods choose the ones labeled as “no salt added,” “low salt” or “low sodium.” Foodstuffs, labeled as being low in salt or sodium, have 140 mg or less of salt per serving.
  • Avoid fast food restaurants. Most of their food is high in sodium. Oftentimes a fast food chicken sandwich will have more sodium than the hamburgers.
  • Avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate), baking soda, and baking powder—all of which contain sodium.
  • When dining out at restaurants ask that your meal not be salted during preparation. Instead use pepper to add flavor—or add some pep to vegetables and fish by squeezing a lemon wedge over them.