A Pinch of Salt, a Lifetime of Health
Salt is essential to our survival, but we’ve gone overboard with how much we eat in the past 50 years! Salt is important for several body functions including
- Nerve signaling
- Muscle functioning
- Maintaining a balance of water and minerals
However, we only need about 500mg per day to keep these necessary functions working in our body. If we eat more than that, our kidneys will get rid of some extra salt, up to a point…
- Salt has several uses in food:
- To preserve food and reduce bacterial growth
- To enhance the taste of food
- As a binding agent and color enhancer
Despite a recommendation to eat no more than 1 teaspoon of salt per day (about 2400mg), we are eating, on average, 3400mg every day! Common sources of salt include bread, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts, soup, burritos/tacos, snacks (chips, popcorn, etc.), chicken, cheese, egg dishes.
Tip #1: Most grocery store “All-natural” chicken is injected with salt to plump up the chicken and enhance flavor. However, organic chicken does not have added salt (it just naturally tastes good!!).
Tip #2: Sea salt is not lower in salt. Yes, it may have a few extra minerals in it, but there is not much of a difference in the amount of salt in table salt vs. sea salt vs. other salt.
How can salt lead to high blood pressure? Where salt goes, water will follow. If you have an extra amount of salt in your blood (from eating too much) then you will likely have more water in your blood too. If this happens every day, your body will have to work harder to pump that larger amount/volume of blood around and your blood vessels will stretch and start to harden. High blood pressure can then develop.
Think you are doing ok on your salt intake? Try keeping track for one day – foods, snacks, drinks, etc. You may be surprised how much salt you are taking in without realizing it! Here are some popular meals at fast food chains and the amount of salt in each one. Remember, the goal is no more than 2400mg in a day!
|Fast Food Chain (link with nutrition information)||Meal||Total milligrams of salt|
|McDonald’s||Big Mac and Large fries||Big Mac (1010mg) + Large fries (260mg) = 1270 mg|
|Zaxby’s||Grilled Cobb Zalad||1710mg|
|Subway||All-American Club Sandwich||1230mg|
|Domino’s||½ of a 12” Medium pan pizza with pepperoni, sausage, and olives||2660mg|
What are some ways to lower your salt intake?
- Rinse off canned veggies and beans – this washes off about 70% of the added salt
- Get rid of the salt shaker on your table. What I mean is — Don’t add salt to food after it’s been cooked (especially anything you order from a restaurant!)
- Instead of guessing, measure out how much salt you are using when cooking
- Buy low sodium soups
- Eat out less often
- Rethink your salad dressings. Try oil and vinegar instead of the bottled dressings. If you use premade dressings, use less!
Have a good week! Feel free to contact me with any questions.
Melissa Boylan, MD, FAAFP
Family Physician and Owner of Noreta Family Medicine