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Sneaky sources of salt

You already know that too much sodium (a main component of table salt) is bad for your heart. So you avoid over-seasoning your food at mealtime. But boycotting the salt shaker—while commendable in its own right—only solves a small part of the problem: The fact is, only about 6 percent of the salt you consume comes from the shaker; roughly 77 percent comes from processed and prepared foods; and the rest (about 17 percent) is either added during cooking or comes from natural sources.

Unless you prepare everything you eat from scratch, you’re likely getting too much sodium. Surprisingly, items that don’t taste salty like salad dressing, mustard, tomato sauce and baked goods are all high in salt.

According to the most recent version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you shouldn’t consume more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes or if you’re at least middle-aged or African-American. Healthy Americans can consume up to 2 grams per day (the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of salt).

Fortunately, it’s easy to track your salt intake by checking the amount of sodium in the foods you eat on food labels. Be sure to look at the nutritional information for all foods, not just those that taste salty. (There’s even sodium in natural, unprocessed foods like milk.) Try these suggestions, too:

  • Eat fresh. Choose fresh meat over cold cuts or bacon and fresh veggies over canned varieties.
  • Go low-sodium. Whenever possible, choose foods that are labeled “very low sodium,” “low sodium” or “no salt added.” Avoid foods with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Get creative in the kitchen. Leave salt out of recipes and experiment with herbs and spices instead. Lemon juice, orange zest and fresh ground pepper also add oomph to a meal without increasing your sodium intake.
  • Adjust your taste for salt. Eat fewer pretzels and chips, and opt for unsalted nuts. You can adjust your preference for salty foods in a matter of weeks.