Test your knowledge on healthy salt intake

  • By Dr. Elizabeth Smoots / Herald Columnist
  • Monday, July 17, 2006 9:00pm
  • Life

Last year, the Institute of Medicine released new recommendations about salt intake for Americans. It turns out that most of us are eating way too much – 3,000 to 5,000 mg of sodium a day from all sources.

Excess salt can contribute to high blood pressure, stomach cancer and a host of chronic ailments such as heart failure, asthma, osteoporosis and kidney stones.

In light of this new evidence, the Institute of Medicine got tough about heavy salt consumption in its revised guidelines. The institute is an independent body that advises the federal government on health matters. It now recommends a 1,500 mg limit of sodium per day, and even less for those who are older than age 50.

Find out how much you know about staying within healthy bounds while using your salt shaker:

1) What percent of U.S. men and women consume too much salt?

a. Women 20 percent, men 80 percent

b. Women 50 percent, men 50 percent

c. Women 75 percent, men 95 percent

d. Women 95 percent, men 75 percent

2) The amount of sodium you need for good health changes with age. True or False?

3) For the average American, what amount of daily salt consumption comes from processed foods?

a. All

b. Three-fourths

c. One-half

d. One-fourth.

4) Reduced-sodium prepared foods usually have less salt than low-sodium foods. True or false?

5) Seasonings that make good substitutes for salt include all but which of the following?

a. Fresh or dried spices and herbs

b. Lemon juice or flavored vinegar

c. Prepared herb or spice mixture or blend

d. Ketchup or barbecue sauce


1) c. About 95 percent of U.S. men and 75 percent of women regularly consume salt in excess of the maximum recommended amount. The upper limit, as set by the Institute of Medicine for men and women of all ages, is 2,300 mg of sodium a day. The federal government incorporated this maximum amount into the national dietary guidelines that were updated last year.

2) True. You need some salt to maintain normal fluid balance in your body, but that amount decreases with age. The institute recommends up to 1,500 mg of sodium daily for ages 19 to 50, 1,300 mg for ages 51 to 70, and 1,200 mg for ages 71 and older. Consuming more than 2,300 mg at any age – or 1,500 mg for middle-aged and older adults – increases your risk of chronic ailments, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

3) b. More than three-fourths of sodium comes from processed and restaurant foods. That’s why it’s particularly helpful to make some meals at home from scratch to reduce salt consumption and keep it under the recommended 1,500 mg limit.

4) False. Reduced sodium foods have only a little less sodium than the standard version. For example 950 mg per serving might be reduced to 760. In contrast, the Food and Drug Administration requires that low-sodium foods must have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. And very low sodium foods must have 35 mg or less.

5) d. Condiments such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, soup mixes and tenderizers often contain more than 140 mg of sodium per serving. For low-salt fare, try basil or cilantro, a pinch of red pepper flakes, or a splash of lemon juice or vinegar. You can also try an herb or spice mixture such as Mrs. Dash, but check the label to make sure it’s salt-free.

Contact Dr. Elizabeth Smoots, a board-certified family physician and fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, at doctor@practicalprevention. com. Her columns are not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Before adhering to any recommendations in this column consult your health-care provider.

2006 Elizabeth S. Smoots.

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