The Pillar of Salt is Crumbling

Woman salting water for cookingThere are many factors in our everyday stressful lives that contribute to high blood pressure. Some we have control over, many we do not. We may not have control over the traffic ahead of us at rush hour, but we do have control over the amount of sodium in our diets.

You may be interested to know that high blood pressure is nonexistent in countries with low sodium intakes. Meanwhile, it is the number one killer in Japan. No coincidence here. Japan has one of the highest per capita intakes of sodium in the world and the U.S. is not far behind.

Americans eat about 15 pounds of sodium per person per year.

That is approximately 10,000 to 20,000 milligrams per day and over half of this is hidden in the foods we eat. As the human body only requires 220 milligrams per day, it is no wonder why we have over 37 million American suffering from high blood pressure. And high blood pressure is a silent killer. It is one of the major causes of kidney failure and responsible for 170,000 deaths from strokes each year.

The body closely regulates the sodium concentration in our blood. The more sodium in our diets, the more fluid we retain to dilute it in the bloodstream. A prolonged sodium intake decreases the kidneys ability to excrete it and water retention leads to increased blood volume. The blood vessels become "waterlogged" and more sensitive to hormonal messages (adrenaline) telling them to contract. As the blood has to travel through constricted vessels, more pressure is required to pump it throughout the body. This increased pressure is hypertension.

Normal blood pressure is 120 over 80. 120 is the systolic pressure when your heart pumps the blood forward through the arteries. 80 is diastolic pressure or the pressure in your vessels when the heart rests. When the diastolic pressure climbs over 90, you have high blood pressure.

Reducing your sodium intake goes a long way to preventing the risk of developing hypertension. The American Heart Association recommends we limit our sodium intake to 2,400 to 3,000 milligrams per day.

As a teaspoon of salt contains 2,200 milligrams of sodium, avoiding the use of salt at the table is a great place to start.

Many of the salt substitutes contain potassium chloride and may taste bitter. Try using lemon juice or herbal blends instead. Products like "Mrs.Dash" use a number of herbs and come in a variety of seasoning blends. Use fresh herbs wherever possible, especially in salads. Fresh cilantro, parsley, green onions, chives and garlic can really add a punch to salads and salsas.

When cooking, try lemon juice, wine and fresh ground pepper to accent natural flavors in foods. Orange juice is an excellent base for meat marinades. Fresh fruits, like apples and/or cranberries, along with fresh herbs taste great when roasting meats or poultry. Check the tip sheet for seasoning suggestions for specific dishes.

Reducing your sodium intake would be an easier task if it just meant avoiding the use of salt. Unfortunately, we live in a sea of convenience foods laden with sodium additives and preservatives. These additives can contribute over half of our sodium intake per day!

Look what happens to fresh peas from processing: Peas normally contain only 2 milligrams of sodium per serving. Frozen peas contain 110 milligrams of sodium from an additive that prevents them from turning gray in the freezing process. Canned peas contain 236 milligrams of sodium from additives that prevent bacterial growth in the can. Frozen peas with sauce contain 420 milligrams of sodium from additives in the peas and the sauce. We went from 2 milligrams to 420 milligrams of sodium and we are still eating peas.

This is the price of convenience: sodium additives like MSG, baking powder, baking soda, and sodium benzoate, alginate, sulfite, propinate, nitrates, hydroxide and phosphates to name a few of the additives in our foods.

Moral to the story? Eat fresh whenever possible and you will avoid these hidden sources of sodium.

Just remember this: the taste for sodium is acquired not genetically driven. Give a new born a taste of something salty and they will grimace.

That look on a new born's face is telling you something. It is telling you the taste for salt is a habit you can live a lot longer without.

Tips For Reducing Sodium Intake

  • Try eating less convenience foods... estimates are 55% of the foods we eat are processed.
  • Sweet tasting foods may not taste salty, but they still can contain extra sodium. Would you believe a cup of Jello Instant Pudding has as much sodium as a Dill Pickle!
  • Swiss Lorraine, mozzarella and string cheese have the least amount of sodium among this group of foods.
  • Gradually reduce the amount of salt in cooking. Start with cutting it in half. A few weeks later, cut it in half again.
  • Use lemon juice to season foods in restaurants. Try vegetable or fruit salsas to spice up your entree.
  • Try seasoning chicken dishes with garlic, mushrooms, cranberries, orange slices, wine, curry, paprika, parsley, sage and onion.
  • Fish dishes can be seasoned with bay leaf, dry mustard, tomato, lemon, green pepper and paprika.
  • Try seasoning beef with bay leaf, marjoram, onion, fresh mushrooms, dry mustard, green pepper and ginger.
  • Pork can be seasoned with applesauce, apples, garlic, onion and sage.
  • Ask for the nutritional information at fast food restaurants. Some entrees can contain 1500 to 2000 milligrams of sodium! Order entrees from fresh ingredients.


  1. Did you salt food at the table?
  2. Did you try other seasonings besides salt?
  3. Did you read the label for the sodium content of your food?
  4. Did you eat more fresh foods?
  5. How many milligrams of sodium does the American Heart Association recommend each day?

Material © San Franisco Spine Center. Used by Permission.

Updated on: 03/04/16
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