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    Shaking a Salt Habit

    Easy does it!

    A DASH of prevention continued...

    The DASH-Sodium scientists aren't alone. The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that the ideal sodium level is around 1,800 milligrams a day -- roughly what the DASH study showed, and about half of what most of us now consume.

    OK, I'm a believer. But shaking the salt habit, I've learned, isn't easy. True, using less salt in the kitchen hasn't been a big problem. By experimenting with other herbs and spices, I've found I can still give most of the dishes I love enough flavor to make them satisfying. (Heaven help us if pepper or oregano turns out to be bad for you, however.)

    Of course, munching my way through a big bowl of salty snacks is out of the question. But I still treat myself to a couple of pretzel twists now and then. And I mean just a couple, now and then.

    The real problem is prepared foods, which are loaded with salt -- and the only way you'd know it is to study the label. One brand of chicken vegetable soup on the market contains a whopping 2,398 milligrams of sodium per can, way over the healthy level. A single serving of a leading canned ravioli in tomato and meat sauce tips the scale at 1,173 mg. Grab a bacon-cheeseburger with fries at your local fast-food restaurant and you'll consume about 1,000 milligrams of sodium -- and that's before you reach for the salty french fries.

    Luckily, there are low-salt soups and nuts out there, along with many other kinds of prepared foods. You just have to look carefully and study the labels. I've begun to take the time to cook my own meals more often -- not just because I can control how much salt they contain, but also because I usually can add an extra serving or two of vegetables. And hitting or exceeding the five-per-day mark for fruits and vegetables, the DASH findings showed, is as important as lowering salt intake, when it comes to keeping blood pressure levels in the healthy range.

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