Become a Label Detective: Can you spot the salt?

Sodium can be a sneaky additive – it’s found in foods that may not even taste salty!  Sodium, or salt, is a flavor enhancer, meaning that adding salt to foods can help keep bitter tastes at bay and balance out the taste of sweet or sour foods. Some people’s taste buds have become used to the enhanced flavors in high-sodium processed and restaurant meals, which can make lower-sodium foods seem bland.

But too much sodium in your diet can have negative health consequences. Sodium plays a role in high blood pressure and too much sodium can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Everyone, including kids, should reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (about 1 teaspoon of salt), according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Specifically, adults age 51 and older, African-Americans of any age, and people with high blood pressure or diabetes, should consume even less sodium (1,500 mg a day).

MyPlate encourages Americans to compare sodium in foods where sodium is often unexpectedly hiding such as soup, bread and frozen meals – and to consume foods with lower amounts of sodium. Follow these tips to help limit the sodium in your diet:

  • Eat more fresh foods. Sodium is often used as a preservative and is found in higher amounts in processed or packaged foods.
  • Cook meals at home. You have little control of how much sodium is added to your food when you eat out, but at home, adding salt is up to you.
  • Limit your consumption of high-sodium dairy products and meats. Processed meats such as bologna and roast beef are often highly salted.  Did you know that cottage cheese can be high in sodium, too?
  • Adjust your taste buds. Try using spices such as herbs, garlic, lemon, or vinegar instead of salt when flavoring your food and little by little, remove added salt from your favorite dishes.
  • Read the label. Check the nutrition facts panel on foods before you buy – but pay special attention to canned, packaged, and processed foods such as pastas, pizzas, soups and breads. Look for “low sodium” or “no salt added” when possible.
  • Boost your potassium. Potassium can help to balance out the sodium you consume, and may have a positive effect on blood pressure. Choose potassium-rich foods such as potatoes, beet greens, bananas, tomato juice and sauce, sweet potatoes, and beans.

Making small changes can have a big impact on your sodium intake. Plus, over time, your family’s taste buds will adjust to lower amounts of sodium – and your family will be healthier! Share your favorite non-salt seasoning technique with us in the comments section below.

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