With the invention of processed foods in the mid-twentieth century, Americans have consumed increasing amounts of salt. Americans consume an average of more than 3,400 mg of sodium a day, far more than the ideal recommendation of less than 2,000 mg (FYI, that’s less than one teaspoon of salt). On average, 75 to 80 percent of that sodium comes from processed foods—not the salt shaker on our dinner table.
Excess salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, hypertension, stroke, and other heart-related issues. For anyone diagnosed with heart failure, it’s critical to cut back salt consumption.
Salt is one of the major causes of deterioration of the heart in heart failure patients, according to New York City-based cardiologist Dennis A. Goodman, MD. Treating heart failure won’t be solved by a one- or two-week no-salt cut-back; instead, it requires a lifestyle change—a lifelong commitment to nixing major sodium sources from your diet.
It’s impossible to cut out sodium completely. Salt is used to flavor and preserve food. That means it’s heavily used in processed, packaged foods to increase shelf life, as well as in preserved foods like pickles and olives, or cured meats like bacon or sliced deli meat.
Here are Dr. Goodman’s tips for cutting back on salt:
1. Know the magic number: Stick to fewer than 2,000 mg of sodium a day. Your doctor can let you know if you should aim to eat even less.
2. Avoid foods that come in a can, jar, box, or plastic bag. As much as possible, use fresh ingredients or lower-sodium substitutes. (Here are some of the foods recommended for a heart-healthy diet.)
3. Rinse off jarred or canned items (such as beans or capers). Research has found this can reduce the amount of salt by 40 percent.
2. When eating salty or processed foods (even if it says low-sodium), be sure to check the nutrition label on the back to ensure it actually meets your criteria for a heart-healthy item. The total amount of sodium you consume in the entire day should stay under two grams (2,000 mg).
4. Watch for “sneaky” salt on restaurant menus when you eat out. Words like “teriyaki,” “soy,” “brine,” “pickled,” or “smoked” are clues your meal is probably saltier than is healthy. You can also ask your server to see if the kitchen can use less salt in preparing whatever dish you order.
5. Mix salty ingredients with no-salt ingredients to lower the salt content of your meals without losing flavor. Keep reducing the amount of the salted product over time until your taste buds have adjusted.
6. Keep the salt shaker off the table. Try enhancing the flavor of food with black pepper, fresh herbs, or no-salt spice blends.
7. Read labels religiously. Look and see what you’re getting. It’s especially key to pay attention to serving sizes when you do this, since it’s easy to eat more than one serving at a time.
The more you can incorporate these heart-healthy habits into your diet, the less your heart failure symptoms will disrupt your life. For more tips, here are heart-healthy habits to treat heart failure.