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Is There Hidden Salt in Your Food?

If your doctor has told you to cut down on sodium (salt) in your diet, you might think that taking the salt shaker off the dining room table is the only change you need to make.

But did you know that the salt we add to food at home is only a small portion of the sodium found in the diet of most Americans? According to Dr. David Katz of the Yale University School of Medicine, “Roughly 80% of the sodium we consume comes not from our salt shakers but from additions made by the food industry.”

Surprised cook

If you have high blood pressure, heart disease or another health condition made worse by salt, it’s time to read food labels before adding foods to your shopping cart.

Here are seven things to remember:

Some foods are naturally high in sodium. This includes olives and some dairy products. Other foods use salt as a preservative or leavening agent. Processed deli meats such as salami and pepperoni may fill your recommended daily salt limit with one portion.

Foods don't have to taste salty to contain an unhealthy level of sodium. You might guess that pretzels, potato chips and salted peanuts have plenty of sodium. But other products such as breakfast cereal and soft drinks can also have a high salt content.

Almost all pre-packaged meals, frozen dinners and entrees, soups, sauces and canned vegetables have a generous helping of salt. Look for low-salt varieties—or better yet, cook from scratch using fresh ingredients.

Salt substitutes are great. But some foods we might think of as alternates aren’t actually substitutes at all. Soy sauce, bouillon cubes, ketchup and other condiments can all have high sodium content.

Many foods come in a low-salt version—but check the labels carefully. The product may still contain more salt than is acceptable for you. And remember that “unsalted” foods may still contain the sodium that naturally appears in the food itself.

Salt may be disguised in food labels. But we can often detect it by looking for the word “sodium” in some of those long chemical names, such as sodium bicarbonate, sodium benzoate or monosodium glutamate.

Choose your beverage wisely. Some soft drinks have added sodium. Vegetable juices can be full of beneficial nutrients, but look for low-sodium varieties. And remember that most “sports beverages” are high in salt.

Learn More

Dining out? Don’t forget that restaurant food can have a sky-high salt content. See “Make Smart Choices for Healthy Restaurant Dining” in the August 2010 issue of Caring Right at Home. For more tips on reading product labels, see “How to Be Smart With Your Shopping Cart.” And to find out how in-home care can help seniors control sodium consumption, see “In-Home Care Helps Seniors Manage Hypertension.” 

Would you like to learn more about the effects of dietary sodium, and more about smart salt substitutes?

Contact your local Right at Home office and request a copy of the latest Caring Right at Home printed newsletter.

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Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services.

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