Shake off the salt

Many of us have had a long love affair with salt, but that may be about to change. Earlier this year, the Institute of Medicine urged the U.S. government to gradually reduce the maximum amount of sodium that food companies and restaurants can add to foods.

Salt versus sodium

Although both terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between salt and sodium. Salt is made up of sodium chloride: 60 percent is sodium, the rest, chloride. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American ingests about 3,400 milligrams a day. The latest health organization recommendations range from 1,500 milligrams to 2,400 milligrams. Most nutrition experts estimate that about 75 percent come from processed food.

Salt sensitivity

Not all medical doctors agree that everyone needs to limit salt. But, there is growing evidence that a significant number of people have a condition called salt sensitivity, an abnormal increase in blood pressure in response to increases in dietary sodium. According to research performed by Myron H. Weinberger, MD, certain salt-sensitive people do not necessarily develop hypertension — but their long-term mortality rate is just as high as those who do.

Driven by convenience

Busy family lives often necessitate taking dietary shortcuts that are high in sodium — frozen meats, entrees and pizzas; rice and soup mixes; canned fish and soup; seasoning mixes and prepared spaghetti sauce. Hurrying in and out of drive-thrus, and especially dining out at restaurants, provide another huge dose. Some restaurant entrees have 2,000 milligrams or more in one order.

Do you need to be concerned about how much sodium your child ingests? Yes. A taste for salt is acquired, and salt-loving children grow up to be adults who eat a salty diet. A 2001 report said that by ages 7-9, 68 percent of children ate too much sodium. And, salty foods are often high in fat and calories. Two years ago, a study published in the journal “Hypertension” found that the more salty food children ate, the more sugary sodas they drank to wash it down.

It’s not easy for food companies to simply drop the salt due to the many roles it plays. For example, bread dough depends on sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate in order to rise.

Here are some tips to reduce the sodium in your family’s diet:

1. Prepare as much from scratch as possible. Eat fresh vegetables, plain meats and grains (such as rice) that you season yourself.

2. Cook without salt, but add just a little at the table. Surprisingly, this can allow you to get by with less because your tongue gets a direct “hit” from the salt crystals.

3. Add plenty of herbs and spices. Also, freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice and red wine or balsamic vinegar add a lot of flavor with negligible sodium.

4. Choose restaurant entrees that come without sauces and gravies. And by eating a half portion, not only will you save calories, you’ll save sodium, too.

5. When reading food labels, pay attention to portion size. A can of soup may be two (or two-and-a-half) servings, so multiply milligrams of sodium by that factor.

Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a Chicago area nutritionist who doesn’t mind cutting back on salt, but leave her popcorn alone. Send your questions and column ideas to her at or (630) 369-8495.

Herbed Pork Chops

Makes 4 servings.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 8 minutes


1 tablespoon McCormick Perfect Pinch Salt-Free Savory All Purpose Seasoning

½ teaspoon salt

4 bone-in pork chops, 1/2-inch thick (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed

2 tablespoons oil

Instructions: Sprinkle Seasoning evenly over both sides of pork chops.

Heat oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add pork chops; cook 4 minutes per side or until desired doneness.

Alternate prep method: Grill chops, over direct heat, turning once, to medium doneness or until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees Fahrenheit, about 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Nutrition facts: 253 calories, 17 grams fat, 24 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrate, 78 milligrams cholesterol, 252 milligrams sodium, 0 gram fiber

Recipe courtesy of