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We all want to eat healthy, yet still enjoy comfort food once in a while. Because of this, one aspect of nutrition that might slip by is daily salt intake. Do you know how much salt you consume on a regular basis, or how much sodium your favorite foods contain? Like most nutritional issues, salt intake is about balance.
Everyone needs salt to survive; the sodium element in table salt aids in your body's cellular functions. However, too much sodium can have a negative effect. For example, sodium can cause your body to retain fluid. This creates a higher volume of blood for the heart to pump, thus your heart must work extra hard to force all that fluid through your arteries, leading to high blood pressure.
Because of these negative effects, you should be aware of your daily salt intake. Try these five strategies:
- Measure a teaspoon of table salt to get a visual reference. The Food and Drug Administration recommends healthy adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. That's roughly one teaspoon of table salt, but do you know what a teaspoon of salt really looks like? Form your own visual reference by measuring a level teaspoon of salt and putting it in the palm of your hand. That is the maximum amount of salt anyone should consume daily.
- Track your intake. Believe it or not, there's an app for that. If you love gadgets, you might consider downloading a sodium-tracking app to your smartphone; there are several to choose from. You simply input the amount of sodium you eat at each meal, and the application subtracts it from your daily goal. If you're not too tech-oriented, you can track your intake using pencil and paper. The American Heart Association offers a free, printable sodium log as a good template.
- Research restaurant options online before you dine out Almost everyone knows fast food is loaded with sodium. A small hamburger patty at McDonald's contains over 500 milligrams of sodium; add a small serving of french fries for an additional 150 milligrams. Fast food chains aren't the only culprits, though. At Chili's, a healthy-sounding salad with seared shrimp contains a whopping 1,400 milligrams of sodium. If you plan to dine out or order carryout, hop on the computer first and review the restaurant's nutrition information. Choose a dish with low sodium levels to help avoid going over your maximum daily intake.
- Order without salt. Don't let a heavy-handed chef decide how much sodium to give you. No matter what you order in a restaurant, always request no salt. That way, if you decide your food needs a little flavor boost, you can control the amount of added salt by shaking it on the food yourself. (Tip: Shake it into your palm first to get that visual reference of how much salt you're actually adding.)
- Eat plenty of fresh foods. Most foods contain some natural sodium, but fresh vegetables and fruit don't have much. For example, one medium, raw carrot contains about 42 milligrams of sodium. A medium, fresh pear contains two milligrams of sodium. When you eat fresh foods, you naturally consume less sodium, plus you get the benefits of dietary fiber and micronutrients.
Use these strategies to eat healthfully and manage your daily salt intake. When you have a good idea of the amount of salt you should consume per day and the level of sodium in the foods you eat, you're on the right track. If you have any questions about how much sodium you should eat, ask your doctor.