Dissolving the Mysteries of Salt
Last reviewed by Faculty of Harvard Medical School on August 28, 2012
By Rebecca Lynch, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
Salt is a mineral that contains sodium. The body needs a small amount of sodium to work properly. But too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is bad for the heart, brain and kidneys.
Americans, on average, eat 4,000 to 5,000 milligrams daily. Most health organizations recommend consuming less than 2,400 milligrams daily.
Salt enhances the flavor of food. The variety of salt products you can buy goes well beyond traditional table salt. Here are some of the different types of salt and their properties.
The important difference between the various types of salt is their sodium content. When measured out by the teaspoon, large, coarse salts have less sodium than table salt; however, when measured out by weight, all salts containing sodium have the same sodium content.
Pay attention to the serving size and the sodium content per serving on food labels. Sodium content is provided in milligrams (mg).
Watch out for these high sodium seasonings:
For some people, salt substitutes or "low sodium" foods may contain potassium salts that can cause serious health problems like irregular heart beats. Ask your doctor or your dietitian if you need to limit your potassium intake.
Try flavoring meat, fish and poultry with herbs and spices like oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, curry or dill. For vegetables, try fresh squeezed lemon juice, basil, oregano or rosemary. Fruit tastes great with a little ginger or cinnamon spice. Look for blends of spices without the salt to add flavor to any dish.
The keys to following a low-sodium, heart-healthy diet include:
And, finally: Get rid of the salt shaker!
Rebecca Lynch, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. is a clinical dietician at Brigham and Women's Hospital