You've thrown away the salt shaker and you steer clear of the chips, burgers and salted nuts. But even these praiseworthy measures don't protect you from the hidden salt lurking in your kitchen cupboard and medicine cabinet. Do you know how much salt you're really eating? Where are the hidden sources of salt in your diet? It may surprise you that to find these hidden sources, you'll need to look not only in your kitchen cupboard but also in your medicine cabinet.
Why is Too Much Salt Bad For Your Health?
Too much salt in your diet is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, which makes it more likely you will suffer a heart attack or stroke. These twin killers are responsible for the deaths of over 800,000 Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and cost the US around $273 billion in health care.
How Much Salt Should You Get?
The American Heart Association says you should consume just over half a teaspoon of sodium a day (around one teaspoon of salt - salt is sodium plus chloride). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says you should have 2.3g of sodium a day and no more, but that the average American's diet contains 3.3g without considering the salt added to meals from the shaker.
The UK's National Health Service is more lenient, suggesting no more than one teaspoon - or around 6g (6000 milligrams) of salt. That's 3 times what the American authorities suggest.
But, remarkably, it's still less than what people in the UK consume.
People in the UK eat on average 9.5g of salt a day. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease you are advised to have even less salt.
You probably don't sprinkle one teaspoon of salt into your meals but with hidden salt in your diet the total quickly adds up.
How to Cut Down on Salt
Watch out when you are eating out and when you are opening packaged foods.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65 percent of the sodium in our diets comes from store-bought packaged foods and 25 percent comes from restaurant dishes.
Check your food labels carefully and pick products that have no added salt or are low in salt.
Watch out for sauces like soy sauce, and stock cubes, as these have high levels of salt. Eat fewer obviously salty items like chips, salted nuts and salty snacks. And use less salt in your cooking - add herbs and spices for flavor instead.
But even after doing all this, your salt levels may still be too high. Read on to find out about seven sneaky sources of salt in your diet that you may not have considered.
Certain supplements may be good for your health in some ways but bad for your salt intake. Take glucosamine, for example.
Glucosamine is recommended for arthritis as well as muscle and tendon injuries but it contains large amounts of sodium or potassium.
If you are on a salt-restricted diet you should avoid taking glucosamine, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Did you consider that one hidden source of salt could be sitting in your bathroom cabinet? We're talking specifically about toothpastes that contain baking soda, or baking powder - an added ingredient that makers claim helps give a brighter smile and cleaner teeth. One teaspoon of baking powder has 488mg of sodium, an amount you can do without when you are watching the amount of salt in your diet.
3. Products Labeled "Reduced Sodium"
Watch out for the seemingly virtuous products that say "reduced salt" or "lower in sodium" on the packaging.
The key to this problem is the word "reduced" or "lower". Consider the question, "lower than what"?
A reduced salt product must contain at least 25 percent less salt than its regular counterpart to be labeled as such. But it doesn't help your diet when the regular item was very high in salt in the first place.
Watch out for heart-healthy or low-fat products because these often contain a lot of salt, mainly to make up the flavor in the absence of fat.
And if a product says it is "unsalted" or has no salt added, this doesn't mean that it is free of salt - the manufacturer doesn't have to take into account the salt that is a natural part of the product.
By all means add vegetables to your diet to increase your levels of vitamins, minerals and fiber but make sure they are as natural and as unprocessed as possible.
Vegetable drinks, for example, may be healthy in some ways but one cup of vegetable cocktail contains around 479 mg of sodium. That's about 20% of the total amount of salt allowed per day.
Canned vegetables are also risky - a cup of canned creamed corn may have up to 730mg of sodium.
If you've got to have vegetable drinks and canned veggies, go for the brands that have no added salt.
Rinse canned vegetables thoroughly. Or choose frozen vegetables which are less likely to contain added salt.
5. Drinking Water
Even the water you drink could be dangerous when it comes to your salt levels.
A 1981 study from WH Hallenbeck, GR Brenniman, and RJ Anderson published in the American Journal of Epidemiology demonstrated that teenagers whose drinking water contained 107 mg/liter of sodium suffered significantly higher blood pressure than those whose water had levels of just 8 mg/liter of sodium.
And a 2002 study from Meir General Hospital, Sapir Medical Center, Kfar-Saba and Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Israel showed that diluting infant formula with high sodium tap water resulted in babies being fed a high-salt diet.
Take care that painkillers don't take you over the recommended daily intake of sodium.
One soluble paracetamol tablet could contain the equivalent of one gram of salt (1000 milligrams or about 1/2 your daily salt allowance), according to a 2008 report from the Queen Alexandra Hospital, UK.
Doctors caution against overuse of paracetamol for a number of reasons, not least because too much of the painkiller can result in high levels of salt in the body.
In addition to paracetamol, you may be surprised to learn that other over the-counter medications are also packed with sodium.
Sodium levels are high in many sleep aids, antacids, heartburn medication, and laxatives - up to 800 mg per tablet.
Be sure to read the labels on any drugs you buy to check for hidden salt. Many antacids contain sodium bicarbonate - baking soda - although you can find antacids that do not include this ingredient in their formula.
Alka-Seltzer, however, contains 445 mg of sodium per tablet and the makers say this should "be taken into consideration by patients on a sodium controlled diet."