The average American consumes about 6 to 18 grams of salt daily. That’s approximately one to three teaspoonsfuls. Americans are eating at least two to three times the recommended daily amount of sodium and most don’t realize it. This is because salt doesn’t just come from the kitchen salt shaker. About 80 percent of salt intake comes from foods that are processed, canned or purchased in restaurants.
How much salt is too much? A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a maximum of 1,500 milligrams (mg) daily for most Americans. This is the same recommendation that has been in place since 2005 for people with high blood pressure or at risk of getting high blood pressure. However, this recommended amount is new, and lower, for the rest of Americans. The previous guideline was 2,300 mg daily, the equivalent of about a teaspoon of salt.
Too much sodium can increase the risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones. And, as if that wasn’t enough, studies have shown a relationship between a high-salt diet and stomach cancer. Of course salt is most famous for raising blood pressure.
When attempting to lower your sodium content, be aware of both natural and added sodium when choosing foods. Read food labels carefully. When dining out ask to see a list of ingredients for the menu items.
Here is a salt conversion guide:
1/4 tsp salt = 500 mg sodium (salt)
1/2 tsp salt = 1000 mg sodium
3/4 tsp salt = 1500 mg sodium
1 tsp salt = 2000 mg sodium
Lower your salt intake with an eye on potassium levels
Sodium and potassium work together in the body. Normal body functioning depends on the balance between sodium and potassium. Given the typical Western diet, decreasing sodium and increasing potassium will bring these two minerals into better balance. This is especially important for those with heart conditions or Meniere’s disease.
Potassium is essential to many biological reactions, including the contraction of the muscles, regulation of heart beats, energy release and the transmission of nerve impulses. A potassium intake between 1875 and 5600 milligrams per day is generally considered adequate for adults. The average dietary intake of potassium is between 2000-3000 mg, somewhat on the low side.
The richest dietary sources of potassium are unprocessed foods, especially fruits, vegetables and fresh meats. Potatoes are one of the best sources for potassium. The following groups of foods each contains 600 mg of potassium:
12 dried apricot halves
5 dried peach halves
1 cup of lima beans
1 cup of any type cooked legumes
1 cup of cooked spinach
1/2 cup of raisins
Physicians may recommend salt restriction and prescribe diuretics. This combination produces extreme urine output, which can rob the body of many needed minerals and cause salt or potassium depletion.
When potassium depletion occurs, it usually shows up as generalized weakness, a slower than normal heart rate, or irregular heart beats.
When you are trying to normalize sodium and potassium intake, you may need to make some dietary changes to enjoy food as much as before. Become familiar with the amount of salt in various foods. Use herbs and spices to bring out the natural flavors of your food. Use lemon juice instead of salt for livening up vegetables. For poultry, try garlic, mushrooms, cranberries, orange slices, wine, curry, paprika, parsley, and sage and onion. For fish, experiment with bay leaves, marjoram, onion, fresh mushrooms, dry mustard, green pepper and ginger. For pork, use applesauce, apples, garlic, and onion and sage. Use seasoning powders instead of seasoning salts.
When reading food labels, watch out for the following ingredients that are high in sodium: hydrolyzed vegetable protein, baking powder, sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), soy sauce, sodium ascorbate, whey solids and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Don’t try to eliminate salt from your diet. Every cell of the body requires salt to function. The body loses salt through urine and sweat, and it must be replaced. It is good to include a high-quality unrefined sea salt in your diet to replenish the sodium, trace minerals and electrolytes the body needs.
Salt deficiency, so easily avoided, can be the cause of serious diseases. An eight-year study of a New York City hypertensive population evaluated for their sodium intake found that those on low-salt diets had more than four times as many heart attacks as those on normal-sodium diets.
The Benefits of Sea Salt
Processed table salt is full of additives, fluoride, anti-caking agents, and other poisons. These chemicals cause discoloration, so toxic bleaching agents are used. However, table salt is the main way most people get iodine. People who decide to change to sea salt should take Iodoral, an iodine supplement.
Unrefined sea salt allows the body to achieve a balance of water both inside and outside cells. With adequate natural sodium and pure water, conditions like gout, muscle cramps, water retention and edema disappear.
Although unrefined sea salt can be considered a health food, it still needs to be used with moderation. Excessive salt intake is not healthy for anyone.