High blood pressure can start developing in childhood, and becoming conditioned to high-salt tastes early in life can make it more difficult to cut back later. Childhood is an important time to focus on preventing the development of high blood pressure, but cutting back on salt and sodium can have a significant impact for people of all ages.
Cut back on prepared foods
Most of our salt comes from processed, prepared foods such as crackers, cheese, canned foods, breakfast cereals, and restaurant foods.
Even processed foods that don’t taste “salty” — like breakfast cereal — can have surprisingly high sodium levels. Additionally, foods eaten numerous times a day, such as bread, can add up to higher sodium intake even though an individual serving is not high in sodium.
In fact, according to a recent CDC report, more than 40% of sodium comes from the following 10 types of foods:
- Breads and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats such as deli or packaged ham or turkey
- Fresh and processed poultry
- Sandwiches such as cheeseburgers
- Pasta dishes
- Meat mixed dishes such as meat loaf with tomato sauce
- Snacks such as chips, pretzels, and popcorn
Choosing foods with lower sodium doesn’t mean losing flavor. Human taste buds aren’t sensitive enough to notice a minor (30 percent) reduction in salt, and for many types of foods, salt reductions of up to 30 percent won’t taste noticeably different. That means home cooks, professional chefs, and the food industry can easily make significant sodium reductions with minimal impact on flavor.
Eat smaller portions of salty foods
There’s no need to completely eliminate favorite high-sodium foods or traditional cultural cuisines such as soy sauce (China), salted pickles and fish (Japan), or salty cheese and olives (Greece, Italy). Instead, it’s best to learn to enjoy such foods in smaller amounts.
Discover reduced- or no-sodium alternatives
Sodium-free substitutes contain 100 percent potassium chloride, while “lite” salts replace up to half of the table salt with potassium chloride. Potassium chloride tastes much like sodium chloride, but it has a bitter aftertaste when heated so it is not recommended for cooking.
Salt substitutes, including herbs and spices, and citrus like lemon can provide more flavor with less sodium. For example, citrus and sodium activate the same taste sensors so less sodium can be used when they are combined. Explore your supermarket for low-sodium versions of traditional high-salt products, or experiment with new alternatives.
Note: Because most Americans get too little potassium, using a potassium-based salt substitute could offer some small protection against high blood pressure, stroke, heart rhythm problems, kidney trouble, and even osteoporosis.
- In fact, one study of nearly 2,000 elderly people showed a decrease in mortality caused by cardiovascular disease when a switch was made from regular salt to potassium-enriched salt. (14)
However, check with your doctor before trying a potassium-based salt substitute, because extra potassium can be dangerous for people who have trouble eliminating excess or who are taking medications that can increase potassium levels in the bloodstream. This includes people with diabetes or kidney disease, those who have had a blocked urinary flow, or those taking a potassium-sparing diuretic, an ACE inhibitor, or an angiotensin-receptor blocker.
Cook your own meals
Instead of eating processed foods and restaurant meals, focus on cooking with fresh ingredients. Cooking with fresh unprocessed ingredients allows you to control the amount of salt (if any) you decide to add to your meals.
- To get started, you can visit our Recipes section here. Some tasty, low-sodium options include cardamom roasted cauliflower, baked ricotta with rosemary and pepper flakes, and citrus salad with ginger lime dressing.
- You can also download “Tasting Success with Cutting Salt: Twenty-Five Science Based Strategies & Culinary Insights” to learn more about reducing sodium intake.
Tasting Success with Cutting Salt is the result of a longstanding collaboration between the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in presenting the successful initiative, “Worlds of Healthy Flavors,” which brings together top nutrition scientists, volume foodservice chefs and operators, and influential culinary experts. With the shared vision that healthy eating and lifestyles are fully compatible with delicious, flavorful food and cooking, Tasting Success with Cutting Salt combines nutrition science and public health with culinary insight to promote sodium reduction strategies.
- Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
- Embrace healthy fats and oils: A savory strategy to lower sodium levels.
- Sear, sauté, and roast: The right cooking method can help you spare the salt.
14. Chang HY, Hu YW, Yue CS, et al. Effect of potassium-enriched salt on cardiovascular mortality and medical expenses of elderly men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83:1289-96.
The aim of the Harvard T.H. Chan of Public Health Nutrition Source is to provide timely information on diet and nutrition for clinicians, allied health professionals, and the public. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The information does not mention brand names, nor does it endorse any particular products.