from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

~Mayo Clinic nutritionist~

Salt (sodium chloride) helps prevent spoiling by drawing moisture out of food, so bacteria can’t grow. Salt also kills existing bacteria that might cause spoiling.

At one time, salting was one of the only ways to preserve food. Although that’s not the case today, salt remains a common ingredient in many processed foods. Salt makes soups more savory, reduces dryness in crackers and pretzels, and increases sweetness in cakes and cookies. Salt also helps disguise metallic or chemical aftertastes in products such as soft drinks.

For otherwise healthy adults, the American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day. That’s about 1 teaspoon of table salt — and what you may find in an average amount of processed foods every day. If you have high blood pressure or certain other chronic conditions, you’re black, or you’re older than age 50, your doctor may recommend limiting sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg a day.

To reduce sodium in your diet:

  • Eat more fresh foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish and unprocessed grains.
  • Read product labels for sodium content. As much as possible, opt for low-sodium products or products without added salt.
  • Select unsalted nuts, seeds, pretzels and other snacks.
  • Use herbs and spices — rather than salt — to flavor your food.