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category_bug_journal2.gif Reducing the amount of salt Americans consume by one-half teaspoon (1200 milligrams) per day could reduce the annual number of deaths in the U.S. by 44,000 to 92,000. That is according to a new study published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine. (The report is behind a paid firewall, but an editorial in the same issue, which is available online, contains much of the data.)

A national campaign to cut salt intake, something on the order of the anti-smoking campaign, could

“...reduce the annual number of new cases of coronary heart disease (CHD) by 60,000 to 120,000, stroke by 32,000 to 66,000, and myocardial infarction by 54,000 to 99,000...This intervention could also save 194,000 to 392,000 quality-adjusted life-years and $10 billion to $24 billion in health care costs annually. Even if the intervention reduced salt intake by just 1 g (1,000 milligrams) per day, the benefits would still be substantial and would warrant implementation.”

Average salt intake in the U.S. is well above the upper recommended limit of 2300 milligrams of sodium per day. For adults older than 40, the upper recommended sodium limit is 1500 milligrams per day.

I hardly ever add salt to food on my plate and I have always used combinations of various herbs and spices, rather than salt, in cooking. The kinds of snacks I crave tend toward sweet rather than salt. You won't find potato chips or salted nuts in my cupboard, but I get a little nervous if there isn't something available for an unanticipated sugar attack.

Nevertheless, there is an astonishing amount of sodium even in what are considered healthy prepared foods. Campbell's soups commonly contain 800-900 grams of sodium per one-cup serving. I like having soups around for a quick-and-easy lunch or dinner, but store brands almost all contain high amounts of sodium.

A one-cup serving of Progresso lentil soup contains a whopping 980 milligrams of sodium. I tried an “organic” brand of vegetable soup that blared “no salt added” in red lettering on the can that has only 70 grams of sodium per serving. It was awful. It tasted like lumpy hot water. So, it's back to home-made soup which can be full-bodied and delicious without a single grain of added salt, but it is not a definition of quick-and-easy.

I've recently rediscovered the pleasures red beans and rice so I keep canned beans on hand for when I'm too lazy or don't remember to soak dried beans. But you must read labels. Here's an astonishing bit of information:

  • Goya Red Kidney Beans: 110 milligrams of sodium per half cup
  • Goya Dominican Red Beans: 350 milligrams of sodium per half cup

What's in the cans is similar enough and they taste the same as far as I can tell, so I choose the kidney beans.

According to the The New York Times, which reported on this new study, the Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies of Science will soon release recommendations on reducing salt intake, including actions the government and food manufacturers can take. One of the NEJM study's researchers,

”Dr. Bibbins-Domingo also said the Food and Drug Administration was considering whether to change the designation of salt from a food additive that is generally considered safe to a category that would require companies to give consumers more information alerting them to high levels of salt in food.”

I've known many people who crave salty food, so much so that I usually warn dinner guests that they may want to salt the food - and they usually do. Some people I've worked with never considered lunch to be a complete meal without potato chips on the side. My personal food bete noire is sugar, which has its own health implications. But controlling salt intake has always been easy for me:

• Don't eat packaged or processed foods

• Don't add salt to food

• Use lots of herbs and spices to flavor dishes

• Small amounts of such flavorings as mustards, horseradish, ginger, citrus, etc. can make a dull dish tasty without salt

No one is saying cutting out salt or cutting down alone will prevent stroke or heart disease, but it is well known that large amounts of salt can be damaging to health, especially in old age. What about you? Do you work at controlling salt intake?

[ADDENDUM: There is a marvelous book by Mark Kurlinsky titled (don't laugh) Salt: A World History that is definitely worth its salt, a substance that in various eras and places, has been used as currency. Kurlinsky has written equally fascinating histories of cod and of the oyster.]

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Colleen Redman: After the Golden Globes and in Honor of Valentine's Day


I quit using salt years ago. Really do not notice it that much. Could be because I have a dry mouth condition.
I wonder about people - when I notice them pouring the salt on their food and they have not even tasted it.
I use very few processed foods but when I do - it is usually convenience and like you I check the labels.

My aunt quit using salt and got so deficient in some mineral (and sodium) that she passed out and had to be hospitalized. I say everything is okay in moderation.

About ten years ago, I quit using salt at the table and used it sparingly in cooking. My doctor told me my sodium levels were too low and encouraged me to start salting again.

Seems you can't win for losing.

I love salty things and prefer them to sweets but have had to get serious about limiting salt intake. The first weeks of low salt were hard because my tongue kept looking for salt but after a while the desire diminished. I like lots of flavor so using herbs and spices helps enormously. It is possible to reduce salt and still enjoy what you are eating. Your suggestion of using small amounts of mustard and horseradish sounds good.

I have been cutting back on salt because of blood pressure even tho' my mon always said, "Good cooks use salt." It did not take long at all for my taste buds to get sensitive and I find a very little goes a long way. If I have salty processed food, I'm up during the night getting water. My husband is one of those people who salts even before he tastes. He puts salt on sausage and bacon. Try reasoning with him!

I think a large amt. of salt in canned goods can be reduced by rinsing. I even rinse canned tuna on occasion. Otherwise I avoid canned goods. Frozen is much better.....plain without sauces or added butter. But I confess, I really love salty foods, too, but over the years I've been able to avoid too many. Moderation, I agree is the key. Dee

We quit salt at least ten years ago and we're only reminded of of our salt free kitchen when we see a guest looking all around the table in a distracted manner. 'Looking for the salt? Let me get it for you'. Then we have to try and remember where we put the salt shakers.

And like others, we have seen the oddest (to us) use of salt. On Pizza? On already salted chips? But I have to say I've never seen someone salt their sausage or bacon!

Kurlinsky's book 'Cod' was a great one. Even the parts about salted cod...

We cut back on salt when our children were young, because I made their baby food by pureeing what we were eating (once they were old enough). Plus my spouse's blood pressure meant we needed to control salt. Some foods taste saltier than they are, while others don't taste salty but have a great deal of sodium. We are a family of label readers, and our grocery cart reflects that. Convenience foods are limited; we buy more "whole foods" and prepare our own. There are no-salt varieties of beans, tomatoes, other canned vegetables; they are more expensive. We also buy frozen or freeze our own.

Retirement means more time to prepare foods, and our freezer usually has soups, applesauce (no sugar), tomatoes and meats in one and two-meal size containers.

The occasional pretzel or potatoe chip snack probably has less salt than a bowl of canned soup.

Good article - salt is deadly for high blood pressure. Try an article on Nu-Salt. I keep it for when my son visits. He loves salt, and says there is no difference between real salt, and Nu Salt.

I love salt. When I was a little kid, I'd pour a pile on a shelf in the kitchen and stick a wet fingertip in there for an occasional treat.

A recently acquired vice is sea salt.

I actually have no idea how much salt I consume on average. Thanks for posting the amounts.

I don't use much salt either (like you my weakness is more to sweets) and do notice how much is any prepared food like canned soup. Eating out sometimes has the same problem as some restaurants use more salt than they should. It seems commercial places could moderate it and then let those who want more add it. When I do use salt, I have switched to sea salt which has less additives than the one I used to use (but no iodine added either which is a drawback in some regions more than others). Sea salt does require keeping a lid on a salt shaker as it picks up moisture faster. I am wondering, if like so many things, it's the additives as much as the salt itself that is the problem.

Those books you mention are terrific. One of our sons is a history teacher and he has those books. He's successfuly incorporated the info from them into his teaching. And he is a very popular teacher!

I’m so grateful for this post. Lately my husband has said that he tastes more salt than usual in what I prepare. He has enough medical problems, and I sure don’t want any, so this is an important reminder. I, too, make my own soups. Someone once said that “soup in a can should stay there.” However, we do keep a few cans of Campbell’s Tomato Bisque on hand.

Great article! I love love love salty foods but made the change more than a decade ago when my normally low blood pressure shot way up after minor surgery. I had six weeks to try to get it down by diet and exercise. For a week cut out all salt. Surprisingly, I found out how things really taste. Also found out that things life fresh, home-grown tomatoes, which I loved with salt, tasted just as good with a little onion. Now I limit salt and watch the BP. Fresh or frozen foods, limited eating out and keeping snack foods out of the house help me stay in control. Now I'm working on the sugar. Love that too. Guess I just love food!

I agree with all the comments. Read that besides salt being bad for blood pressure, it also somehow draws calcium out of the bones. An extra reason to avoid it. I don't buy chips but once in a while I indulge in the samples set out by markets like Whole Foods.


Since you have petitioned your visitors for comments regarding their intake of salt I humbly offer the following brief sentiments….

Food without salt is like soap with no suds.

Food without salt is like a sun with no warmth.

Food without salt is like sex with a condom.

Food without salt is like lyrics without music.

Food without salt just pretty much sucks!

And now let me close with this rather well known prayer…..

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
It’ll probably be due to salt intake!

Oh dear. I suppose eventually I am going to have to learn to live without excess salt. I undoubtedly consume way too much; when I exercise in heat, I become covered with crystals. For the moment my BP is good; guess I'm flushing the stuff. But I don't doubt that excess salt is a burden on my system.

"Do you work at controlling salt intake?"
Ah, Ronni, not only do I work at controlling salt intake (since 2008), but also fat/cholesterol (since 1983), and sugar (since 2000).

We do require some salt; but, it is naturally occurring in most fruits and vegetables. What we may not get without salting our foods is Iodine. I remember when several people of my acquaintance had goiters; but, no one seems to have them since iodine was added to some commercially available salt. (I should think that sea salt would have iodine in it since it is rich in various minerals found, naturally, in the oceans.)

I think that the number of people who can actually benefit their blood pressures through salt restriction runs about 20%. I seem to be one of them.

Don't even talk to me about eating out and the sorts of things we get in our foods. We were taken to dinner by my brother several days ago. I asked that the dressing be served on the side of my Caesar salad - which was done. The salad was delicious. I asked that my asparagus be servered without sauce - it was. The asparagus was luscious. I asked that my shrimp & scallops be served without sauce. That was evidently just too much for the chef. The shrimp/scallop dish arrived fully sauced. (And it was delectable! Well...I can't be good all of the time!)

In response to clever Alan G:

Gimme food with salt
Beautiful crystal salt
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flowing, stacks of

Give me down to there SALT
Table style or sea dried
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy

Salt, salt, salt, salt, salt, salt, salt
Pour it, shake it
High in piles as I can make it
My salt

(With apologies to the Cowsills)

There was a time when I thought the four basic food groups were salt, grease. ketchup and beer but I have since mended my ways somewhat so I can survive long enough to be a problem to my kids. Who says mothers aren't vindictive?

Here's an odd thing: I would have expected my doctor to ask me to cut back on salt at my age, but she surprised me by saying that I need to eat more of it, based on bloodwork. Apparently low sodium levels in blood can also be a problem. And I crave salt, which would seem to fit...I wouldn't want to over-extrapolate my data, but I wonder if folks with low blood levels of sodium typically crave salt. Just thinking about it makes me want to go to the movies!

My blood pressure is high so I just started paying attention to the salt labels. I never add salt to food, and when making soups and other dishes from scratch they don't seem to need it. However I do like to buy some of Trader Joe's frozen meals and was shocked to see the salt content on many of them. Especially my favorites. Sigh...

I don't salt anything when cooking and let guests add their own.
I just can't eat eggs without salt.
I carelessly often add potato chips to my lunch plate.
I stopped eating a lot of canned food because of the PBs but forgot they also had high salt. Thanks for the reminder.
I must remember to seat myself "below the salt".

I get too much salt as well but I am slowly trying to get better about it. I am much more careful about what my son - now a year - gets. I want him to learn healthy habits and his little body certainly doesn't need the kind of salt we routinely end up eating, either.

As far as soup, I recently got a bunch of freezer-tempered glass bowls with plastic lids. I plan to make a good batch of homemade soup with a reasonable salt content, and then freeze the excess in serving-size portions. The glass bowls are microwave safe (and with the lid removed, oven safe), which is nice. (Though they don't recommend severe temperature changes, so I will probably thaw in the fridge for a few hours before heating - especially if an oven is involved.)

We both have high blood pressure and I also have been warned against consuming much salt because of chronic heart failure, so I carefully read labels on any prepared foods. There are versions of some that are low-salt. We have to resist chips and salty crackers! (But sugar is my worst vice, too.)

Just wanted to mention that some people, myself included, should not use salt substitutes. Instead of sodium chloride these might contain potassium chloride. If you are on certain blood pressure meds, such as ACE inhibitors, your potassium levels tend to climb. A correct potassium balance is imperative and too much can get you in big trouble. So ask your doctor before you switch, especially if you are taking BP meds. If you simply cut down on salt your taste buds will adjust.

Oh yes, oh yes, she says nodding very strongly yet still salting things. Oy!

A lot of what people have posted above is very helpful.
Since my doctor told me I had "metabolic syndrome," elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, I have been watching my salt intake, and both blood pressure and blood sugar are now in the normal range. I watch my ankles, and if they are trim I know I'm O.K. If they start swelling, that means I have to cut back on salt.
I don't feel deprived. Every once in a while I'll have an olive or a piece of salami or a few potato chips, just not whole jars and packages of these favorites.
I made pea soup today with low sodium broth and pork belly instead of ham or bacon. Pretty good!

In re-direct to Cowtown Pattie....

Love It! And the Cowsills will just have to get over it.

Now - you may have offended some Broadway producers but those folks have always been overly sensitive anyway. :)

I was once married to a woman who, every time I picked up the salt shaker at the table, would say, "Salt the silent killer," which eventually led to homicidal thoughts of my own. She is controlling someone else's salt intake now. I believe that the same study cited in this post also remarked that the problems is not so much the salt we add at the table, but the salt that is added to prepared foods. In my home, we don't often eat prepared foods.

No, haven't avoided salt. SHOULD. But haven't. This is a good wake-up call. Thanks for talking about it. Actually, I love it when you talk NUTRITION. It's so important to all of us. I really believe that proper nutrition would cure so many ills we'd all be amazed!!

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