Sodium chloride, also known as salt, occurs naturally in food and is often added to enhance flavour, but too much can harm the body. The body needs sodium in small amounts to conduct nerve impulses, maintain the right balance between minerals and water, and contract and relax muscles. The recommended average daily nutrient intake level for sodium is 1,500 mg/day, although most Canadians are eating way more than that!
Consuming too much salt can lead to high blood pressure which contributes to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. Therefore, it is important to limit your salt intake.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2000 mg/day, to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and associated cardiovascular disease. This is the equivalent of less than one teaspoon!
Where Canadians are Consuming Most Of Their Daily Sodium
The World Health Organization recently stated that Canadians consume almost twice the recommended sodium amount on average. But where is everyone getting this high intake of salt from?
Restaurant meals, and processed foods (75%)
Added salt (13%)
Naturally occurring (12%)
As you can see, restaurant meals and processed foods contribute a high percentage of Canadians' daily salt intake. Canadians are also consuming high amounts of sodium from foods such as bakery products, processed meats, dishes like pizza, lasagna, frozen dinners, canned soups, and cheeses.
Risks Associated with High Blood Pressure
Understanding the importance of keeping a healthy blood pressure may help you limit your salt intake, so let's take a closer look at the risks associated with high blood pressure.
Sodium is needed to balance the minerals and water in our bodies, but too much can be harmful. The sodium in our bodies helps draw water into our bloodstream, however high amounts of sodium will draw too much water into the bloodstream increasing the blood volume which leads to higher blood pressure.
High blood pressure can increase your risk of:
Strokes: A stroke is when something blocks the blood supply to part of the brain or a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Consistent high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels leading to clots which can cause a stroke.
Heart Disease: Having high blood pressure can damage your arteries (blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood to the entire body). Damaging the arteries can decrease the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, increasing the risk of heart disease.
Kidney Disease: Over time, high blood pressure can cause the arteries around the kidney to weaken, which means a decrease in blood flow to the kidneys. If the kidneys are not receiving enough blood, their functions (regulating fluid, hormones, and salts in the body) will be compromised. The kidneys also help regulate blood pressure, so if they are not functioning correctly due to high blood pressure this can create a negative feedback cycle.
If you have high blood pressure, a personal or family history of cardiovascular disease or kidney disease, or would like to learn more about reducing the salt in your diet - book a session with one of our dietitians today!
Ways to Reduce Your Salt Intake
1. Eating at home
Try to limit how often you eat out, as restaurant meals are often high in sodium
Lean towards eating home-cooked meals with mostly fresh ingredients, rather than packaged foods
2. Limit your intake of:
Processed deli meats
Salty snacks (e.g. potato chips, pretzels, popcorn)
High-sodium sauces (e.g. soy sauce, ketchup, teriyaki sauce, canned pasta sauces)
3. Reducing Added Salt
Season your foods with herbs, spices, garlic, and citric juices instead of salt. Click here for a salmon recipe that uses cilantro, lime, garlic, and paprika to season with just a sprinkle of salt!
Choose to either salt your food while cooking or at the table, not both. Always taste your food before adding salt - you may find you need less than you think!
When eating out, try to pick lower-sodium options (refer to the list of high-sodium foods in #2!)
4. Pick "Low-sodium" Ingredients
When grocery shopping look for low-sodium options, lots of canned and packaged foods have these available, such as: no salt added broth, reduced salt soy sauce, etc.
Be careful when choosing low-sodium options, as they may still have a high amount of sodium per serving.
Reading Nutrition Labels
When grocery shopping, reading the Nutrition Facts Table is vital to buying healthy options. Sodium content will be listed in both milligrams (mg) and percent daily value (%). When comparing foods, firstly be aware of the serving size listed at the top, as sodium content is listed as "per serving" (not the whole package!) and products may list a different serving size on their labels.
If a product contains 5% or less daily value of sodium per serving this is considered low sodium, 15% and higher daily value is regarded as high. Next time you are at the grocery store try comparing nutrition labels with similar products to see if there is a low-sodium option!
Sodium can be tricky to cut back on because it is so abundant in packaged foods and restaurant meals, and helps to make food taste good. However, cooking most of your food at home and using other ingredients like fresh herbs, spices, garlic, ginger, and citric juices to add lots of flavour to your food can help reduce your sodium intake significantly. Research has also found that if you gradually reduce your sodium intake, over time your taste buds can start to adjust and become more sensitive to the taste of salt so you find you do not need as much to enjoy your meal. It does not have to be all or nothing, gradually reducing your salt intake over time can be effective and help decrease your risk of heart disease.
Chung, M. L., T. A. Lennie, and D. K. Moser. "A gradual taste adaption intervention reduced dietary sodium intake among adults with hypertension." European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing 21.Supplement_1 (2022): zvac060-077. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/eurjcn/article/21/Supplement_1/zvac060.077/6627347
Fraser Health. Limiting Sodium (Salt). (2021 Nov). Available from: https://patienteduc.fraserhealth.ca/file/limiting-sodium-salt-110192.pdf
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. ( 2021 May 13). Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm#:~:text=High%20blood%20pressure%20can%20damage%20your%20arteries%20by%20making%20them,Chest%20pain%2C%20also%20called%20angina.
The World Health Organization. Salt Reduction. (2023 Sep 14). Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/salt-reduction