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Is the salt shaker guilty as charged?

June 26, 2011 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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Is the salt shaker guilty as charged?

Did you know that, on average, Canadians eat more than double the amount of sodium they need each day? Eating too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Cutting back on sodium can help you and your family to stay healthy and feel their best. When you think of reducing sodium in your family’s meals, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Since salt is the main source of sodium in the foods Canadians eat, your first thought may be to reduce your use of the salt shaker in the kitchen or at the dinner table. However, while the salt shaker is the most obvious source of salt at home, the real culprit is processed foods, most of which don’t even taste salty.

Over 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods such as cheese, deli meats, pizza, sauces and soups. Pre-packaged foods, ready-to-eat foods, fast foods, and restaurant meals are also often high in sodium. Only 6% of sodium comes from salt added at the table, while 5% comes from salt added during home cooking. The salt shaker, while a potent symbol of salt at home, is not the primary source of sodium in most Canadian’s diets. The strategy I use to reduce sodium in my family’s meals is to cook most meals at home, from basic healthful ingredients that are naturally low in sodium. I still use prepared and processed food products, but I try to use them in moderation and select food products that are low in sodium when I shop. Check out the Nutrition Facts Table on packaged foods and choose foods that contain less than 15% Daily Value (%DV) from sodium. This is my strategy to lowering my family’s sodium intake. What is yours?

1. Health Canada. 2010. Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada, Recommendations of the Sodium Working Group. Available at
2. Mattes, RD., and Donnelly, D. (1991). Relative Contributions of Dietary Sodium Sources.  Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Vol. 10, no 4, pp 383-393.
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Comments (24)

Louisa3 (not verified)

Posted on Friday June 24, 2011 a 3:44pm

Been using a combo of strong flavours in my cooking recently: rice vinegar, sesame oil, minced ginger and shallots and a tiny bit of low-sodium soy sauce.


Posted on Tuesday June 28, 2011 a 4:31am

Being a chef. I don't use salt in my own recipes. Most ingredients that restaurants use have a high amount of salt or sodium in them. I never use anything with msg and I take pride in doing a lot of scratch cooking, buying whole fresh ingredients and creating things. Many chain or corporate places, everything is out of a bag, pre cut, sliced, or ready made heat and serve, just to keep consistency. 99% of the time the "cooks" do not even know what goes into what they are assembling. Avoid them and support a local place where they care and support the local economy


Posted on Tuesday June 28, 2011 a 7:38am

I always compare the nutritional content of groceries before making the final decision, including the sodium content. I tend to use a variety of herbs for flavour to decrease the overall amount of sodium used. Thanks for the info regarding added salt


Posted on Tuesday June 28, 2011 a 5:27pm

I too have been reading lables much more frequently and am choosing the lower salt versions when ever possible. Food Manufacturers are also making it easier for consumers to choose lower salt because many of them are featuring lower salt production products. Campbells soups is an example.


Posted on Tuesday June 28, 2011 a 5:54pm

I never leave the salt shaker out on the table and I offer pepper as a condiment first. There are also many no salt seasonings which are just as tasty.


Posted on Tuesday June 28, 2011 a 5:55pm

As I've become more cognizant of sodium levels in prepared/canned foods, I've started to check out the labels when I shop. I've totally turned into a label checker as I walk down the aisles at the grocery store. Where possible, I try to choose something with the lowest levels.


Posted on Tuesday June 28, 2011 a 10:33pm

I was amamzed when I started looking at the labels on canned products and other items the high level of sodium content. What amazes me more is that you have to pay more for the item if you buy sodium reduced.


Posted on Wednesday June 29, 2011 a 12:48am

I stop added salt to everything that entered my mouth years age. I prefer to prepare from scratch, but sometimes I treat myself to fast food or a prepackaged meal. I however, do notice the salt content in those treats and tend to stay away from them.

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Friday July 15, 2011 a 10:57pm

Hi ‘busymommy’, thanks for your question. To begin, there is good news that might help to calm your worries. The taste preference for salty foods can be changed. The available evidence shows that people can adapt their taste preferences to lower salt meals over a period of a few months. [Source: Institute of Medicine. (2010). Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. Washington, DC. The National Academies Press.]. It sounds like your daughter has developed a taste preference for salty foods and is in the habit of reaching for the salt shaker. Here are a few strategies you could consider trying at home and at the grocery store: • Have your family take on a “low salt challenge” at home so attention is not placed just on your daughter’s eating habits. • Learn to read food labels and compare the sodium content. Have other family members find lower sodium versions of your regular foods. • Encourage the family to taste the food first before deciding if a shake of salt should be added. • Take the salt shaker off the table to help get out of the habit of reaching for it. Out of sight, out of mind. • Buy a salt-free seasoning blend to put on the table as a replacement for the salt shaker. For more personal advice, you can call 8-1-1 and ask to speak with one of our Registered Dietitians (it’s a free service). We are open Monday to Thursday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, and Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Cheers, Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian | HealthLink BC


Posted on Wednesday June 29, 2011 a 4:35pm

What is the verdict on substituting part of table salt with sea salt? Overall, sea salt is healthier for everyone to consume. Sea salt is known to be effective for stabilizing irregular heartbeat, extracting acidity from body cells, balancing sugar levels, generating hydroelectric energy in the body, enhancing communication between nerve cells and clearing away mucus in the lungs. Sea salt is also good for preventing muscle cramps and acts as a tough natural antihistamine. There is no iodine in sea salt -- it is extracted straight from the ocean in its natural state. Sea salt is known to help prevent diabetes because it helps with the absorption of food from the intestinal tract and also it maintains blood sugar levels.


Posted on Wednesday July 6, 2011 a 1:06am

Hi Rasputin, I'm a Dietitian, and have never heard of these properties about sea salt. For many in Canada, the iodine added to table salt has been crucial in virtually eliminating the once common disease of goiter.


Posted on Wednesday June 29, 2011 a 9:16pm

Labels don't tell the whole story anymore .....I checked soup labels today and their math didn't work with recomended amounts....640mg = 25% daily recomended, 850mg = 30%.... You did say 1000mg - 1500mg./day?? A can of "low sodium" soup has 630mg sodium - they say 26% - I calculate it's more like 50+% at your recomended?? No wonder people have trouble with their sodium consumption.... good luck all hugs

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Thursday June 30, 2011 a 11:32pm

Thanks for your comment! The % Daily Values on food labels are based on the highest recommended intakes for each age and sex group (based on the 1983 Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNIs). For sodium the Daily Value is set at 2,400 mg. When combined with rounding rules for food labeling, this should explain why your calculation of the %DV didn’t match what was on the food label. For more information about the % Daily Value, take a look at this webpage from Health Canada You rightly point out that the Daily Value is higher than the current recommended daily intake of 1,500 mg of sodium per day. In fact, the Daily value is set just above the current recommended upper daily limit for sodium (2,300 mg). I hope that this helps to clarify your confusion about the %DV on food labels. Cheers, Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian from HealthLink BC


Posted on Wednesday June 29, 2011 a 9:19pm

Guilty as charged with too much salt intake. A few years ago I cut my salt consumption considerably and after a period of time did not miss it. It is a habit that requires a "food style" change. For one that can push the sugar aside but reaches for the salt..........I will make a concerted effort to reduce salt from my diet.


Posted on Wednesday June 29, 2011 a 9:56pm

I love salsa, but jarred salsa is ridiculously high in sodium. 250 mg in 30 mL! I can eat a cup of salsa without blinking. I make my own fresh with the mini food processor attachment to my hand blender (or you can chop it fine by hand). Start with the basics - a big handful of fresh cilantro (coriander to the Brits), 1/4 onion, juice of 1 lime, and 1/2 jalepeno (I like it hot!). Then decide what kind of salsa you want -- add about a cup of fresh or canned tomatoes, frozen mango pieces, blueberries, pineapple, strawberries, or any combo of these -- it's up to you. Whir and enjoy. I use "no salt" Que Pasa corn chips, too. No salt, lots of munching, tons of satisfaction. (Also great with omelettes!).


Posted on Thursday June 30, 2011 a 4:16pm

Our salt shaker has been relegated to the back of the cupboard. It now only comes out for those first radishes, onions cukes and tomatoes fresh from the garden. Old habits die hard especially after 70 years of enjoying these early summer treats. Glad to see Campbells gradually reducing sodium from their soups which are a necessary staple of a senior's diet. this is a great site and I look forward to more tips and recipes for us seniors


Posted on Thursday June 30, 2011 a 4:21pm

I use very little salt while cooking or preparing food but....I have to admit I like way too much food for snacks that are loaded with salt.....The salt shaker isn't the guilty party....only if we over use it it is all the prepared foods that are loaded with salt.

White Elk Dreams

Posted on Friday July 1, 2011 a 8:16pm

I love salt too, but I know that I do need to learn more about sodium, iodine, etc. Plus I realize that to much is not healthy, so the info. helps! I have also tried sea salt as well, it also helped me cut down, plus I need to remind myself everything has salt in it. This is where I chose to 'taste and not cover up the tastes.


Posted on Saturday July 2, 2011 a 1:39am

My husband has (or better to say had) high blood pressure. We cut back in salt and his blood pressure went down to a degree that our GP cut down his medication dosage to half! I use 1/2 teaspoon sea salt for cooking (for 5 people) and lots of pepper (cayenne and black pepper) plus some kind of spice (curry or herbal blend). I even add black pepper to my rice. For salad or anything steamed or raw, I add lots of lime/lemon juice and pepper. I only buy "no salt added" tomato paste. No canned or packaged food. I pack lunch for the family and we eat out once in a while just as a treat and we try to choose healthier options with lots of vegetables and no sauce. We do have a shaker at home for visitors, but I fill it with herbamare (a mix of herbs and sea salt). It tastes great!


Posted on Sunday July 3, 2011 a 10:43pm

Thanks to my daughter suggesting that our family enter the healthy families BC contest. Honestly, I have not really looked at the amount of salt in pre-packaged foods, nor did I know the daily amount of salt that is a healthy amount. Thank you all for helpful hints but also for opening my eyes to taking steps to be a healthy family.


Posted on Monday July 4, 2011 a 2:10am

It is interesting to read to everyone's comments! I stopped adding salt to cooking years ago. My family doesn't notice it any more but it is kind of funny when we have company to see them take one mouthful then ask for the salt shaker. We use very few processed foods and notice the salt content right away.


Posted on Saturday July 9, 2011 a 6:48pm

We use Mrs Dash spices in our house to cut back on salt intake.


Posted on Thursday July 14, 2011 a 1:03am

how much does potassium affect sodium levels in the body? From my understanding it can help counter sodium but to what degree and is there a point where no matter how much potassium is ingested it will not make a difference?

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Friday July 15, 2011 a 10:58pm

Hi ‘ryguy’ thanks for your question on the link between potassium and sodium. You are right; potassium can counter the effect of sodium. In fact, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) trials showed that eating patterns rich in fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy products (foods that are high in potassium, as well as magnesium and calcium) lowered blood pressure. This occurred even with sodium intakes of around 3,000 mg a day. In a later DASH trial, blood pressure was lowered even more when people also lowered their sodium (salt) intakes. The interesting thing is that the “DASH Diet” is very similar to Canada’s Food Guide. Current guidelines suggest that healthy adults should aim for about 1,500 mg of sodium and 4,700 mg of potassium a day. This is roughly three times more potassium than sodium. Surveys show that the average Canadian eats more sodium (salt) and less potassium than this. These eating patterns contribute to the estimated 1 in 5 Canadians who have high blood pressure. The heart of your question is still being studied by scientists. Expert groups such as the US 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee identified the need for more trials on the interactive effects of sodium and potassium on blood pressure. Cheers, Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian | HealthLink BC


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