NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Do Not Pass the Salt

Do Not Pass the Salt


The specific dietary guidelines the USDA releases every five years do more than suggest to Americans what we should be eating. They affect the information on nutrition labels. They determine what your children will be served in school to your children. They influence recommendations for social services such as food stamps, and help to spread the word about obesity and salt intake levels that educate the public in community centers, doctors' offices and hospitals.

The newest guidelines focus on the amount of sodium in Americans diets. With so many Americans overweight, experts are hoping the newest version might finally help get the message across about how to eat a more healthful diet.

The new guidelines include recommendations for the general population and more detailed recommendations for specific groups such as pregnant women. The guidelines recommend that no one should consume more than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day. Those who are age 51 and older and those who are African American (almost half of the U.S. population) or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams per day. Sodium has been shown to be one factor in the development of high blood pressure.

Sodium is a part of everyone's diet, but how much is too much? Most foods contain some sodium because it is naturally present. Sodium has an important role in maintaining the water balance within cells and in the function of both nerve impulses and muscles. Any extra sodium is excreted by the kidneys. Consuming excess sodium may lead to edema or water retention. Women who consume excess sodium may be at higher risk for developing osteoporosis even if calcium intake is adequate. On average, American men consume between 3,100 and 4,700 mg of sodium per day, while women consume between 2,300 and 3,100 mg.

Most of the sodium in processed foods is added to preserve or flavor them. Salt is the major source of this sodium. Salt is added to most canned and some frozen vegetables, smoked and cured meats, pickles and sauerkraut. It is used in most cheeses, sauces, soups, salad dressings and many breakfast cereals. It is also found in many other ingredients used in food processing. The food industry is trying to find ways to decrease sodium while ensuring food safety.

How does processing food affect its sodium content? Follow along these common foods as they move from fresh to processed.

Apple, 1--2 mg

Applesauce, 1 c.--6 mg

Apple pie, 1/8, frozen--208 mg

Apple pie, 1, fast food--400 mg


Chicken, 1/2 breast--69 mg

Chicken pie, 1, frozen--907 mg

Chicken noodle soup, 1 c.--1,107 mg

Chicken dinner, fast food--2,243 mg


Cucumber, 7 slices--2 mg

Sweet pickle, 1--128 mg

Cucumber w/salad dressing--234 mg

Dill pickle, 1--928 mg


Potato, 1--5 mg

Potato chips, 10--200 mg

Mashed potatoes, instant, 1 c.--485 mg

Potato salad, 1/2 cup--625 mg


There is no doubt that salt enhances the flavor of many foods. So how do we kick the salt habit?


    • Cover up some of the holes on the salt shaker or take it off the table. Learn to enjoy food's natural taste.



    • Use more fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. The more processed the food is, the more sodium it may contain.



    • Use canola oil or olive oil instead of butter or margarine in cooking.



    • Season foods with herbs and spices rather than salt.



    • Make your own condiments, dressings and sauces and keep sodium-containing ingredients at a minimum.



    • Cut back on salt used in cooking pasta, rice, noodles, vegetables and hot cereals.



    • Taste your food before you salt it. If, after tasting your food, you must salt it, try one shake instead of two.


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