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Pass the salt? Or pass on salt to be healthy?

Many foods contain salt. Nutritionist Joy Bauer says Americans consume more sodium than recommended, and that could cause health problems.
/ Source: TODAY

There’s no question salt makes almost any meal more savory, but should you “pass” the salt or “pass on” the salt? On “Today’s Health,” nutritionist Joy Bauer says chances are salt is already a main ingredient in many foods. Bauer tells us how much salt is healthy.

Salt: What is it?Salt is comprised of sodium and chloride. We all know that too much sodium can be dangerous for our health, however some sodium is essential. In fact, sodium helps to maintain proper fluid balance in and out of cells, regulate blood pressure and transmit nerve impulses.

Sodium occurs naturally in some foods, but most of the sodium we consume is from processed and packaged products. Why is sodium appealing as an ingredient? Sodium can affect taste, texture, control the speed of fermentation, stabilize volume, and promote color enhancement. And although the National Institute of Health and the American Heart Association recommend no more than 2,300 mg daily (that’s one teaspoon of salt), most Americans  consume between 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams of salt per day!

Health implications?There is a strong link between sodium and high blood pressure in some people who are salt sensitive. Salt attracts water, pulling it into the blood vessels, and this extra volume creates added pressure.

High salt intake may be associated with increased risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A recent study of lifestyle-related risk factors in the development of gastroesophageal reflux suggested a potential relationship between salt intake and reflux. More studies are needed.

Increased dietary sodium is known to trigger urinary calcium loss. With high levels of sodium intake, the body compensates by increasing urinary excretion. Because sodium and calcium excretion occur together, higher levels of urinary sodium result in increased calcium excretion, with possible adverse effects on bone health.

How to consume less salt?
Lowering the amount of salt you consume is important. Become a savvy consumer and start reading labels. The following are sodium guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

  • Sodium-free: less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • Very low-sodium: 35 milligrams or less per serving
  • Low-sodium: 140 milligrams or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium: usual sodium level is reduced by 25 percent of the original item.
  • Unsalted, no salt added or without added salt: made without salt that's normally used, but still contains the sodium that's a natural part of the food itself. The FDA and U.S. Department of Agrigculture state that a food that has the claim "healthy" must not exceed 360 mg sodium per reference amount. "Meal type" products must not exceed 480 milligrams of sodium per reference amount.

Ingredients with sodium:

  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Brine
  • Broth
  • MSG
  • NaCl
  • Salt
  • Soy sauce

Foods usually containing sodium:

  • Broth
  • Cured
  • Corned
  • Pickled
  • Smoked

Common foods and their salt content:

  • Salt (1/4 teaspoon) 580 mg
  • Ketchup (2 tablespoons) 380 mg
  • Bacon (3 slices) 435 mg
  • Lox (2 ounces) 840 mg
  • Luncheon meat (4 ounces) 1200 mg
  • Canned soup (2 cups) 1880 mg
  • Pickle (1) 833 mg
  • Salad dressing, commercial brands (4 tablespoons) 860 mg
  • Frozen entrée (average serving) 880 mg
  • Soy sauce (1 tablespoon) 1014 mg
  • Chicken broth (1 cup) 980 mg

For more information on healthy eating, visit Joy Bauer’s Web site at