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Reduce Salt in Your Diet

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Dana Sullivan

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Skip the shaker and you may still get way too much sodium. Here's why.

You already know that limiting the amount of salt you add to your plate is a good idea. Unfortunately, 80 percent of the sodium we consume comes from restaurant meals and packaged foods. "As a result, the average American's diet contains two to three times the FDA's recommended limit of 1,500 mg to 2,400 mg a day," says Stephen Havas, M.D., of the American Medical Association (AMA). And experts estimate that excess sodium kills 150,000 people yearly, which is why the AMA now wants to add warning labels to foods high in sodium. Here's what you must know to shake the sodium habit.

Even If You Don't Add Salt to Your Meals, You Need to Keep Tabs on Your Intake

Sodium acts as a flavor enhancer, and many canned, frozen, and other processed foods are full of it, says Havas. Plus, many chefs cook with processed foods and then add more salt. "A typical fast-food meal can contain up to 5,000 mg of sodium — more than double the daily recommended limit," adds Edward J. Roccella, Ph.D., of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Asian food is a big offender, thanks to MSG (a sodium-rich food additive) and soy sauce. Another culprit: pizza. Cheese is high in salt, and meat toppings, such as Canadian bacon and sausage, often contain high-sodium preservatives called sodium nitrites. When you order, ask for half the cheese and more veggie toppings. And no matter where you're dining, ask your waiter about low-sodium options.

Sodium-rich Foods May Not Taste Salty at All

A grande Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino has a whopping 300 mg of sodium, and a 24-ounce bottle of Propel Fitness Water has 104 mg. Baked goods such as bread, muffins, doughnuts, and cookies are also high in sodium since they're often made with baking soda, which has 1,259 mg per teaspoon. Other surprising sources: cold and instant cooked cereals, and pancake and waffle mixes. Plus, salt is used as a preservative in some "fresh" foods — including meats — and canned vegetables. One cup of canned creamed-style corn has 730 mg, and 1 cup of canned green beans has 622 mg. "Choose fresh vegetables whenever possible," says Roccella. If you do go for canned, buy ones that say "no salt added" on the label, or rinse the contents under the tap to remove excess sodium.

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