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The salt equation = simple subtraction

The FDA is asking the food industry to reduce sodium by a modest 12%.

Nurse Julie Hoest-Abramoff suggests doing your own math since the healthiest total is a teaspoon or less daily.

by Betsy Lynch

Salt is one of life's essentials. It balances our body fluids and aids in muscle and nerve function. But it's all too easy to get too much of a good thing, cautions Julie Hoest-Abramoff, clinical nurse manager for the Heart Health Promotion Program at the Health District of Northern Larimer County. Sodium is added to nearly everything we eat—packaged snacks, processed meats, cheeses, restaurant dishes, fast food, school cafeteria meals, and even many beverages. The cumulative effect can be dire.

Last fall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took aim at the problem by revising its industry guidelines. The FDA is encouraging manufacturers, restaurants, and school cafeterias to cut salt across the board by 12 percent over the next two and a half years. The net goal is to trim 400 milligrams from the daily American diet.

That target—3,000 milligrams per day—is still too high, says Hoest-Abramoff. She points out that the American Heart Association sets the cap on sodium at no more than 2,300 milligrams daily, or 1,500 milligrams if you have high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Keep in mind that a scant teaspoon of salt supplies 2,325 milligrams of sodium. Most of us ingest nearly double that as we eat and drink our way through a normal day.

As tantalizing as it makes food taste, excess salt can play havoc with our blood pressure, increasing our risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. Over time, it can stiffen arterial walls, making our circulatory systems behave like an old garden hose—inflexible and prone to clogs. Salt not only makes us thirsty, but it also causes us to retain water, making our kidneys work harder shuttling surplus electrolytes and fluid from the body. 

kid salting fries with quoteAnd our children are not immune to these effects either. Hoest-Abramoff cites a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that reveals one in ten kids has elevated blood pressure. Yet we can change this.

Kids take their cues from parents and caregivers. They, too, will learn to make healthier choices if fresh, low-salt options are routinely served at home and at school. Started early, wise eating habits last a lifetime—and they can extend and improve the quality of that life—with reduced risk of disease. Dialing down the salt is a worthy goal for everyone. But it takes some calculated effort because so much dietary salt is hidden from view. 

Yes, you might miss some of that salt at first, admits Hoest-Abramoff. But she also promises that your taste buds can quickly adapt. You'll soon appreciate the natural flavors of unprocessed foods. The Cleveland Clinic provides a list of herbs, spices, and zests you can use to enhance many dishes at



Tips to dial back sodium in your diet
  • Do the math: read product labels for sodium content
  • Eat fewer processed and packaged foods
  • Cut back on cafeteria dining, restaurant meals, and fast food
  • Pay attention to baked goods and cheeses—many are surprisingly high in sodium
  • When dining out, look for low-sodium options (gravies/dressings/sauces are all suspect)
  • Shop for fresh foods and prepare them at home without salt
  • Let diners add their own table salt if desired. Most people will add less than what's found in packaged foods.
  • Use fresh and dried herbs, spices, and zests to enhance flavors
  • Substitute salt with low-sodium or sodium-free seasoning blends (like Mrs. Dash)
  • Save time by buying pre-cut fresh fruits and vegetables packaged without salt or preservatives

~ Courtesy of Health District nurse Julie Hoest-Abramoff, BSN, RN