Test Your Salt Sense

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Although your body needs no more than 500 mg of sodium daily, most Americans get 8-10 times that amount. Most of it comes from salt added to processed food (cereals, crackers and bread are the greatest source in the American diet)and meals eaten away from home. Should you worry? Excess salt intake raises blood pressure and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. If you already have hypertension, a low-salt diet may help keep it under control and increase the effectiveness of your medication. Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, keeping your salt intake to a minimum is a very good idea. Try to keep it below 1600 mg per day - less is better.

How do you know if you get too much salt? Answer these questions, checking the appropriate column. Then total your score to see how you rate.

1. I keep the salt shaker off the table.
2. I taste food before salting it.
3. I use herbs, spices and salt-free seasonings like Mrs. Dash and garlic powder instead of salt to season foods.
4. I buy fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned.
5. I eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
6. I seldom eat deli sandwiches for lunch.
7. I read labels to find low- and reduced-sodium soups, pasta sauces and broths.
8. I cook rice with herbs instead of using boxed mixes.
9. I serve pasta with low-sodium sauce and vegetables instead of using boxed mixes.
10. I use dried beans or no-salt-added beans instead of canned (rinsing will reduce sodium by about 40% and is better than nothing).
11. I avoid salty snacks like potato chips, pretzels, and crackers or choose a no-salt brand.
12. I avoid cured meats, like hot dogs, sausage, and bacon.
13. I use low-sodium or reduced-sodium products for condiments like soy sauce in moderation.
14. I avoid frozen dinners, entrees and pizzas.
15. I cut the amount of sauce in frozen skillet dinners in half.
16. I avoid boxed meals.
17. I buy canned tomato products without added salt.
18. I make homemade chili, stews, and pasta dishes instead of buying canned or frozen.
19. I use avoid sea salt as much as table salt (the sodium content is nearly as high).
20. I don’t add salt to water when cooking hot cereal, pasta, or rice.
21. I buy breads and crackers without added salt.
22. I buy cereal such as oatmeal without added salt.

How do you rate? Follow these directions to total your score:
1. Total the number of checks in each column.
2. Multiply each total by 5 for “always,” 3 for “sometimes,” 1 for “never.”
3. Subtract 3 points for every meal you eat away from home in a one week period (do not count food that you make at home and take with you).
4. Add all column totals and see below.

40 or less You’re probably getting too much salt in your diet. Look closely at your eating habits to find ways to improve.
41-69 You’re aware of many of the keys to a lower salt diet. Use these questions to help you lower your salt intake even more.
70 and above Great job! You’re one of the few Americans who consistently makes choices for a healthier, low salt diet.


by Hollis Bass, MEd, RD

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