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Nutrition, Vitamins & Supplements for Seniors

Seniors Take Heed: How Much Salt Are Your Eating? Beware of ‘Salty Six’ Foods

It’s National Eating Healthy Day and American Heart Association puts focus on salt in our diets - take the salt test at bottom of page

  Graph showing the main sources of sodium in the average U.S. diet.  

Graphic from excellent Mayo Clinic report, "Sodium: Are you getting too much?"
 Click to read it.


Nov. 7, 2012 - Eating too many salty foods can create all sorts of health problems, including high blood pressure. But did you know a lot of common foods are packed with excess sodium? It's not just the french fries and potato chips you need to be careful with. That's why on National Eating Healthy Day the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association is increasing awareness of sodium and the "Salty Six."


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These are common foods that may be loaded with excess sodium that can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. But the American Heart Association says it is making it easy to find better options when grocery shopping and when eating away from home. Simply look for the Heart-Check mark -- when you see it, you'll know right away that the food or meal has been certified to meet our nutritional standards, including sodium.

Sodium overload is a major health problem in the United States. In a recent survey conducted by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, American consumers understand a small amount of sodium should be consumed daily, but the exact amount is not understood.

The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day -- more than twice the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. That's in large part because of our food supply; more than 75 percent of our sodium consumption comes from processed and restaurant foods.

"Excess sodium in our diets has less to do with what we're adding to our food and more to do with what's already in the food," said Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D., a research nutritionist at Northwestern University and an American Heart Association/American Stroke Association volunteer.

"The average individual is getting more than double the amount of sodium that they need, but there are ways to improve their sodium intake under their control."  Here's a quick look at the Salty Six, the top sources for sodium in today's diet:

   ● Breads and rolls. We all know breads and rolls add carbohydrates and calories, but salt, too? It can be deceiving because a lot of bread doesn't even taste salty, but one piece can have as much as 230 milligrams of sodium. That's about 15 percent of the recommended amount from only one slice, and it adds up quickly. Have two sandwiches in one day? The bread alone could put you close to 1,000 milligrams of sodium.

   ● Cold cuts and cured meats. Even foods that would otherwise be considered healthy may have high levels of sodium. Deli or pre-packaged turkey can contain as much as 1,050 milligrams of sodium. It's added to most cooked meats so they don't spoil after a few days.

   ● Pizza. OK, everybody knows pizza's not exactly a health food, because of cholesterol, fat and calories. But pizza's plenty salty, too. One slice can contain up to 760 milligrams of sodium, so two can send you over the daily recommendation.

   ● Poultry. Surely chicken can't be bad for you, right? Sodium levels in poultry can vary based on preparation methods. You will find a wide range of sodium in poultry products, so it is important to choose wisely. Reasonable portions of lean, skinless, grilled chicken are ok but may still contain an added sodium solution. And when you start serving up the chicken nuggets, the sodium also adds up. Just 3 ounces of frozen and breaded nuggets can add nearly 600 milligrams of sodium.

   ● Soup. This is another one of those foods that seems perfectly healthy. It can't be bad if Mom gave it to you for the sniffles, right? But when you take a look at the nutrition label it's easy to see how too much soup can quickly turn into a sodium overload. One cup of canned chicken noodle soup can have up to 940 milligrams of sodium. And remember that soup cans typically contain more than one serving.

Older Americans Most at Risk of High Blood from Too Much Salt

In addition to excess sodium intake, other factors also influence blood pressure and the risk for heart disease and stroke. These factors include

Age. The prevalence of high blood pressure (hypertension) increases with age and affects more than half of people aged 55–74 years and approximately three-fourths of those aged 75 years and older.

Current dietary guidelines for Americans recommend that adults in general should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. At the same time, consume potassium-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables. However, if you are in the following population groups, you should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, and meet the potassium recommendation (4,700 mg/day) with food.

> You are 51 years of age or older.

> You are African American.

> You have high blood pressure.

> You have diabetes.

> You have chronic kidney disease.

The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population overall and the majority of adults. Nearly everyone benefits from reduced sodium consumption. Eating less sodium can help prevent, or control, high blood pressure. To learn more about sodium in your diet, Click here to CDC.

   ● Sandwiches. This covers everything from grilled cheese to hamburgers. We already know that breads and cured meats may be heavy on the sodium. Add them together, then add a little ketchup or mustard and you can easily surpass 1,500 milligrams of sodium in one sitting.

Be sure to keep in mind that different brands and restaurant preparation of the same foods may have different sodium levels. The American Heart Association Heart-Check mark--whether in the grocery store or restaurant helps shoppers see through the clutter on grocery store shelves to find foods that help them build a heart-healthy diet.

Sodium doesn't just affect your heart health, but your physical appearance as well. Excess sodium consumption may make your face feel puffy, give you bags under your eyes, increase swelling in your fingers and make your jeans look, and feel, tighter.

In fact, from the same American Heart Association/American Stroke Association consumer poll, 75 percent of respondents stated that their pants feeling too tight is their least favorite effect of bloating which may be associated with excess sodium consumption.

National Eating Healthy Day, Nov. 7, is devoted to encouraging everyone to make small changes to incorporate healthier food choices and increase awareness of the importance of good nutrition. Celebrate National Eating Healthy Day by making a conscious effort to eat less sodium.

As you gear up for your next grocery store run or ordering from the menu, keep the Salty Six in mind. All you need to do to make a heart-healthy choice is to look for our familiar red heart with the white check.

Another helpful tool is the Nutrition Facts label on the package and calorie labeling in restaurants, which together with the Heart-Check mark helps you make wise choices for the foods you and your family eat.

Make the effort to choose products that contain less sodium. It's worth it! For more information on sodium and nutrition visit or

>> U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2010 pdf

About the Sodium Reduction Efforts 

The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association states it is committed to improving cardiovascular health of the whole population as part of its 2020 impact goal. Successful sodium reduction is just one of the contributing factors to this goal and requires action and partnership at all levels--individuals, healthcare providers, professional organizations, public health agencies, governments, and industry. The association urges a renewed and intensive focus on this critically important public health issue. The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association is actively working toward a population-wide reduction in sodium intake. For more information on the association's sodium reduction efforts, visit

Dietary Sodium, Also called Salt

Table salt is made up of the elements sodium and chlorine - the technical name for salt is sodium chloride. Your body needs some sodium to work properly. It helps with the function of nerves and muscles. It also helps to keep the right balance of fluids in your body. Your kidneys control how much sodium is in your body. If you have too much and your kidneys can't get rid it, sodium builds up in your blood. This can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to other health problems.

Most people in the U.S. get more sodium in their diets than they need. A key to healthy eating is choosing foods low in salt and sodium. Doctors recommend you eat less than 2.4 grams per day. That equals about 1 teaspoon of table salt a day. Reading food labels can help you see how much sodium is in prepared foods.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

> Reduce Salt and Sodium in Your Diet (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

> Sodium (Salt or Sodium Chloride) (American Heart Association)

Also available in Spanish

> Decode the Sodium Label Lingo(Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)

> Hyponatremia(Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)

> Low-Sodium Diet: Why Is Processed Food So Salty?(Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)

> Sea Salt vs. Table Salt: Which Is Healthier?(Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)

> Sodium and Potassium(Dept. of Health and Human Services) - PDF

> Sodium in Drinking Water(Environmental Protection Agency)

> Water Softeners: How Much Sodium Do They Add?(Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)

What do you know about salt?

Take the Quiz  (Answers below)

  1. The body needs how much salt per day:
    1. ¼ teaspoon
    2. ½ teaspoon
    3. 1 teaspoon
    4. 1 tablespoon
  2. The maximum amount of salt recommended in the U.S. Dietary Goals:
    1. ¼ teaspoon
    2. 1 teaspoon
    3. 1-½ teaspoon
    4. 1 tablespoon
  3. The amount of salt that the average American consumes each day:
    1. 2 teaspoon
    2. 3 teaspoons
    3. 4 teaspoons
    4. 5 teaspoons
      1 teaspoon of salt = 2,000 mg.
  4. How much salt is in 3 oz. pork chop?
    1. 52 mg.
    2. 100 mg
    3. 500 mg.
    4. 1,000 mg
  5. How much salt is in 3 oz. of ham?
    1. 500 mg.
    2. 1,156 mg.
    3. 2,500 mg.
    4. 3,000 mg.
  6. How much salt is in a fast food Deluxe Burger?
    1. 76 mg.
    2. 300 mg.
    3. 545 mg
    4. 918 mg.
  7. How much salt is in 20 potato chips?
    1. 50 mg.
    2. 100 mg.
    3. 175 mg.
    4. 250 mg.
  8. How much salt is in a picnic meal_________?
    1. 1 hot dog in a bun
    2. 1 teaspoon catsup
    3. 20 chips
    4. ½ cup canned baked beans


1.      ¼ teaspoon

2.      1-½ teaspoons

3.      3 teaspoons

4.      52 mg

5.      1,156 mg

6.      918 mg

7.      250 mg

8.      1,620 mg

—National Agricultural Library



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