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May 14th, 2009
12:23 PM ET

How can we avoid salt in our diet?

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta answers your questions."]
From Arthur
Birmingham, Alabama

I saw your report earlier in the week the about high salt content in restaurant foods. I end up consuming salty foods at home too! My wife adds it to everything – even to the water she boils our pasta in. What are some alternatives I can suggest?


Arthur, thanks for writing in! Sodium content is often not something people look for on labels, or consciously think about when preparing their meals. Even many low-fat, low-calorie items have very high levels of sodium. Then, of course, the salt shaker sitting on most kitchen tables doesn’t help the matter. You see we’re all creatures of habit. If a person grows up always adding salt and pepper to each meal, it becomes second nature. Before even tasting a meal, many people add salt to without thinking twice.

Our bodies do need some sodium. It helps regulate your body’s fluid, aids in muscle function. But too much sodium can cause a siren to go off internally. When excess salt flows through your bloodstream, your kidneys get defensive. They release a hormone that triggers blood vessels to contract, which causes your blood pressure to rise. From there it’s a ripple effect on your health. High blood pressure can cause a heart attack or stroke among other conditions. Something as seemingly small as reducing sodium levels in your diet could save your life. In fact, the American Medical Association estimates that 150,000 lives could be saved in the United States annually if people cut their salt intake in half.

There are ways to cut back when cooking at home without losing flavor. Start by getting the salt shaker off the dinner table. As I mentioned earlier, people often add it to meals just because it’s there, not because the food needs it. Keep the shaker in the cabinet, and odds are your whole family will inadvertently use it less.

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Filed under: Dr. Gupta's Mailbag • Health
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Mark Groat

    Michael: Salt is sodium chloride. You can skip the sodium and have just the chloride if you'd like, but I don't think you'd enjoy the toxic effects.

    Salt is a much simpler molecule than sugar. It would be very hard to find a replacement for that doesn't hurt the human body. They tried with lithium chloride in the 40s, but this had adverse health effects.

    June 5, 2009 at 10:38 pm |
  2. Edmond

    Hi Doc.

    May I get low level the cholesterol or to improve it for better of course, using either the healthy food or by cooking in house.


    May 28, 2009 at 1:10 pm |
  3. michael armstrong sr.

    dear doc. there is a way to contriol salt and that way is to make a low sodium salt . people love the tast of salt and some love it to death invent salt without the sodium .

    May 15, 2009 at 6:07 am |