Lima Memorial Health Focus: Low salt diet, but what does that mean?

Lima Memorial Health Focus: Low salt diet, but what does that mean?

posted on: 2/6/2018 3:45:40 PM

Health & Fitness Guest Columnist 

Masroor A Abro, MD FACC
Lima Memorial Physicians
Heart Institute of Northwest Ohio

As physicians, we all tell our patients who have a history of hypertension or congestive heart failure to follow a low-salt diet, but how many people really know what that means? For example, you might be instructed to follow a diet that consists of 2 grams or 2,000 milligrams of salt per day. This quantity is roughly 1 teaspoon or 5 milliliters in volume. An easy calculation is this: if you are on a 2,000-calorie diet, your salt intake should be no more than 2,000 milligrams per day. Make no mistake, a low-salt diet does not mean “NO SALT”. Your body needs salt to maintain the basic functions of the muscles, organs and nerves, and it needs salt to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Almost all foods contain some quantity of salt. It is important to read and understand all food labels and know what the terms mean when buying foods. You should buy foods labeled “low sodium,” which means less than 140 mg per serving. Foods labeled “sodium-free” contain about 5 mg per serving. When reading the label, try to choose foods that are labeled 5% of your daily value per serving as these are the foods considered “low sodium.” The Food and Drug Administration ( website provides a great resource for understanding food labels. Additionally, there are many apps available to help understand food labels and nutritional content.

You should be cautious about “salt substitutes” and be very careful with substitute products as they usually contain potassium chloride, a substance that tastes like salt but can have some devastating effects. What’s worse is the already dangerous effects increase if you are taking certain medications like lisinopril, losartan, captopril, spironolactone, eplerenone and triamterene, to name a few. Taking “salt-substitute potassium chloride” with your prescription medications can cause a condition called hyperkalemia, which can cause sudden death due to arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm). This is especially important for patients who have underlying kidney disease or heart failure. Also don’t forget there are hidden salts in a variety of products like bread, milk, salad dressings and desserts. Reading the nutritional food labels truly is best practice and a habit you should learn and keep to make sure you are staying within your allotted salt intake for the day.

The foods that are lowest in salt are non-processed fresh fruits and vegetables, while foods containing the most salt are breads, rolls, cured meats, fast food, pizza, canned foods and chips. Try to substitute salt with herbs and seasonings like lemon, lime, garlic, onions and other dried spices. Here are some suggestions for seasoning different foods:

  • Fish: Ground pepper, lemon juice or tomatoes.
  • Eggs: Onions, ground pepper, tomatoes, paprika, parsley and mushrooms.
  • Chicken: Paprika, pineapple and oregano.
  • Beef: Pepper, onion, garlic, curry, basil, thyme and cilantro.
  • Pork: Basil, onion, garlic, cloves and rosemary.
  • Desserts: Ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and different flavoring extracts.

Over the years it has been determined that hypertension is one of the biggest risk factors for coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and peripheral vascular disease. Following a “low-sodium” or “low-salt” diet can have a significant impact on lowering blood pressure by almost 14 mmHg, which will reduce your overall cardiovascular risk.

Originally published in The Lima News Health and Fitness section.

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