By now, it’s no secret that America’s salt addiction can be linked to high blood pressure, or hypertension. But eating habits are hard to break, and despite the health risks of a high-sodium diet, the average American still consumes over 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That’s a hefty load above the recommended 2,300 milligrams a day recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. People with high blood pressure, heart problems, or certain other health issues may be advised to consume even less.
“When you have too much sodium in the body, it pulls more water into the blood vessels,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutritionist and cookbook author in New York City. “That strains the blood vessels over time. Think of a hose that’s getting too full with water.”
To keep your sodium intake in a healthy range, avoid these sneaky high-sodium foods and take a look at what’s going on your stove at night. Here are five sodium-slashing tips for a healthier heart, according to Largeman-Roth.
Cook with citrus. Incorporating the juice and zest of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit in your recipes can add fresh, vibrant flavor to foods so you can be less reliant on the salt shaker. “I add citrus zest to everything from pasta dishes to salads to baked goods,” says Largeman-Roth. “You just need a microplane grater to just take that little bit [of zest] off.” (Try it out with this roasted lemon-poppy salmon.)
Flavor with fresh herbs. If you’ve only been cooking with dried herbs, you’re in for a treat when you begin to dabble with fresh basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, and more. “These all add a lot of brightness and can make something that only has a little bit of salt taste more flavorful,” says Largeman-Roth. Learn the best seasonings to use for any dish here.
Rinse canned beans. It’s admirable to soak and cook your own beans, but there’s no denying that canned beans are a major timesaver. Good news: These convenient cans can have a safe and healthy place in your diet, offering the same fiber and protein as non-canned beans, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The one kicker can be the added sodium used to increase shelf life, but you can fix this by buying a reduced-sodium can (see #4) and rinsing your beans before using them.
Look at labels for sauce and condiments. Condiments like soy sauce, BBQ sauce, and hot sauce can be a sneaky source of sodium. Many companies have started offering reduced-sodium options, but these items still contain a great deal of salt. Continue to read labels and count these numbers toward your daily sodium intake. One tip from Largeman-Roth: Aim for about 500 milligrams of sodium per meal, which is the equivalent to about ¼ teaspoon of table salt.
Eat more fresh food. The DASH diet recommends seven to 12 fruits and vegetables a day, focusing on fresh produce in a variety of colors. Eating fresh foods can cut down on your intake of processed foods, which is where Americans consume 75 percent of their sodium, according to the American Heart Association.
For more tips for a healthier heart, here are ways to lower blood pressure naturally.