Americans have been warned about the dangers of salt for decades.
Most recently, a team of Harvard researchers linked salt consumption to 2.3 million deaths globally from cardiovascular disease in 2010. In the United States, one in 10 deaths was blamed on salt.
However, the mineral known as sodium is also needed by the body to help maintain proper fluid balance, transmit nerve impulses and assist with muscle contraction.
“Salt in and of itself is a great thing, but it’s how you use it every day,” said Cindy Key, a registered nurse at the Ambulatory Surgical Center in Jasper.
The key is moderation.
Ninety percent of Americans consume too much sodium, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams a day, depending on factors such as age and health history.
In contrast, the average American eats about 3,300 milligrams.
The CDC identifies processed foods and restaurant meals as the source of most salt consumption.
Cured meats, pickled foods, salty snacks, sauces and beverages all have salt added to them to enhance flavor or act as a preservative.
Even foods that are otherwise healthy, such as carrots, beets and celery, naturally contain sodium.
Some medications contain high amounts of sodium as well.
Key has reduced her family’s sodium intake by switching to Himalayan salt, which contains more minerals than table salt but is also more expensive.
She also advocates closely reading the Nutrition Facts on food labels.
A food that provides 5 percent or less of sodium per serving is ideal.
Other tips for eliminating excess salt from one’s diet include removing the salt shaker from the table and carefully measuring salt used in cooking.
Also, don’t overlook other kinds of seasonings.
“Instead of using salt, try spicy. Add spices or fresh herbs and then you won’t miss the taste of salt,” Key said.
For a list of low-sodium recipes, visit www.heart.org.