Simple rules for salt intake

By: Angela Dufour, Feb 14, 2013

I have just been told that I have to lower my blood pressure. What types of salt and how much should I be getting each day?

Decreasing your sodium intake can help with high blood pressure

Decreasing how much sodium you consume can help lower high blood pressure.

Sodium is a mineral found in table salt. Sodium is also combined with other chemicals and added to manufactured foods for a variety of reasons. Research has shown that the less sodium we eat, the lower our blood pressure. About 11% of the sodium we consume is from salt that we add to our food at the table or in our cooking. Twelve per cent is from sodium that naturally occurs in food and our drinking water. Most of the sodium we eat, around 77%, is from processed food and restaurant meals.

Food labels include nutrition facts that list the amount of sodium in a serving. Sodium is measured in milligrams and abbreviated as mg. For a healthy blood pressure, health experts suggest we eat between 1500 and 2300 mg of sodium per day. Check food labels to become more aware of the sodium content in foods. Eating fewer processed foods and more fresh foods is one of the best ways to cut back on sodium.

Salt is mined from dried salt lakes or from the sea. It is mainly a combination of two minerals, 40 per cent sodium and 60 per cent chloride. The recommended limit is to consume no more than 2300 mg of sodium a day to manage or prevent high blood pressure.

Types of salt

  • Table salt is a fine-grained salt that we get from salt mines. It usually contains an anti-caking agent, such as calcium silicate, to keep it free-flowing. In the 1920s, iodine was added to table salt to prevent goiter, which was common in many areas of North America where iodine was very low in the local food supply. Today, iodine deficiency is rare but table salt is still iodized. Table salt is 99 per cent sodium chloride.
  • Sea salt is made by the evaporation of seawater. Sometimes it’s named after the sea it comes from. Gourmet cooks can often tell the difference between varieties of sea salts because of their distinctive qualities, which can give subtle differences to food’s flavour and finish. Unrefined sea salt contains 95-98 per cent sodium chloride and 2-5 per cent trace minerals.
  • Kosher salt is basically table salt but contains no additives and has a coarse grain. It is used to prepare meat according to Jewish dietary regulations.
  • Pickling salt is used for brines to make pickled foods. It is fine-grained like table salt, but doesn’t contain iodine or anti-caking ingredients, which would make the brine cloudy.

All the above salts contain about 2300 mg of sodium per teaspoon.

Salt-free seasoning blends are alternative ways to flavour food. They are a mixture of flavourful dried herbs and spices that don’t contain sodium chloride.

Salt substitutes replace some or all of the sodium in salt with another mineral such as potassium or magnesium. Potassium chloride is a common salt substitute.

Sodium deficiency is rare, since sodium is a natural ingredient in many of the foods you eat. Manufactured foods often contain salt and many sodium-containing additives. Limiting your intake of salt and sodium can benefit your health, especially if you are over 45 years old or of African descent. All “salts” contain sodium and can potentially increase your blood pressure.

You can adapt to a less salty taste in your food by gradually decreasing the salt in your cooking and at the table. Enhance the flavour of your food with a dash or sprinkle of lemon juice, garlic, herbs, spices, wine or vinegar. Experiment with a variety of salt-free seasoning blends. Salt substitutes can replace table salt but often taste bitter and aren’t recommended for people on a potassium-restricted diet.

Angela C. Dufour, MEd., PDt., IOC Grad Dip Sports Nutr, CFE, is a sports dietitian and owner of Nutrition in Action in Bedford, N.S. Since 1999 Angela has been working as a professional dietitian within the health and sports and foodservice industries in Halifax and abroad. She is also a Regional (Nutrition) Marketing Manager with Compass Group Canada; food services management. Most recently, Angela has worked with Compass Group Canada’s Sport and Leisure and Entertainment Division to assist the culinary and marketing teams with her expertise in Sports Nutrition Food Services to effectively deliver appropriate high performance mass meal service to a variety of athletic groups, including the Canada Summer Games, 2009 in PEI and Molson Canadian Hockey House for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Angela’s clientele includes a variety of athletes, coaches, parents, provincial/national and international athletes. She also provides professional education services to the general public including non-athletes, children, adolescents and the elderly. Her services range from one-on-one consults to group packages, including personal diet assessments and analysis. To learn more, visit