Save your brain!

Eat low-salt in a high-sodium world

By Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.

Adults showld not consume more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. Steering clear of salt shakers is a start.

Don’t let the recent media tizzy linking diet soda to stroke distract you from an even bigger threat to your brain: salt. The amount of sodium most of us eat every day doubles your stroke risk.
That’s why we’re 100 percent with the federal government and the American Heart Association. Both now say that most adults should consume no more than 1,500 mg a day of sodium (that’s 3/4 teaspoon of salt) – not the 2,300 mg recommended in 2005, and definitely NOT the 4,300 mg most of us get from eating restaurant meals, canned/processed foods and even healthy-sounding stuff like rye bread.
Why? Simple. Cutting back on sodium can save you from a heart or brain attack (aka stroke). It’s as important as eating more (many more) fruits and veggies. But it ain’t easy to go low in a high-sodium world. Here’s how to do it the way they do it at Dr. Mike’s Cleveland Clinic, where the Lifestyle 180 chef-nutritionists have become seasoning experts. You can learn to make food taste great too, without ever eating a bland meal. We promise!
Deep-six salt super-tankers. Fully 77 percent of the sodium you eat comes from processed, packaged or restaurant foods. (Only 5 percent comes from your saltshaker.) A single bouillon cube, a serving of deli ham and a scoop of a boxed rice mix contain 780 to 1,000 mg of sodium. Each.
So do the obvious. Cross these off your shopping list: lunch meats, lunch meats – no, that’s not a typo; they’re so bad that we’ve repeated them intentionally. Also, sausage, bacon, ham; bouillon; regular canned soups; most boxed or frozen rice, pasta and potato dishes; pickled and marinated foods; even regular canned beans and vegetables – one cup of canned carrots often has 350 mg of sodium! Truly low-sodium versions are OK; in a pinch, rinse regular canned beans and veggies well before using; about 40 percent of the salt will go down the drain. But fresh or plain frozen veggies are better.
Fill your plate with naturally low-sodium foods. Go back to nature: Fruit, veggies, whole grains (cook ‘em without added salt or broth), low/no-fat dairy foods and fresh poultry and fish all belong at the center of salt-smart eating.
Defuse salt bombs masquerading as health foods. Mega-amounts of sodium can hide in foods you choose because they’re low in fat/calories and seem healthy. For instance, a cup of fat-free cottage cheese can have 475 mg; a glass of canned tomato juice, 680 mg. Having one of each during the day could spin your sodium meter into the red zone. And don’t even think about instant ramen noodles! A packet with veggies has 1,400 mg.
Love bread? Shop for 100 percent whole grain and low sodium. Bread accounts for nearly 11 percent of dietary salt, so going lower there could save you big time. Try switching to open-face sandwiches. While 100 percent whole-grain breads often pack only 130 mg a slice, that’s 260 mg per sandwich – more than a small bag of fast-food fries (134 mg)!
Right-size your portions. It’s no coincidence that the sodium glut really took off in the late 1980s. It coincided with portion-size inflation. A plain fast-food burger has 520 mg; supersize it to a double quarter-pounder with cheese, and you’re looking at 1,380 mg. Until there’s nutrition information on every menu (something we’d love to see), you still can make brilliant choices by focusing on naturally low-salt foods (see above). Also, you’ll find some surprisingly low-sodium options at your fave restaurants at
Read the label. Just 7 percent of shoppers check sodium levels. Everyone should. Dr. Mike’s crew urges always buying “sodium-free,” “low-sodium,” and “unsalted” foods. Not an option? Compare brands. The point spread can be huge: A single slice of frozen cheese pizza can range from 450 mg to 1,200 mg. Also, be skeptical of foods that say “lower” sodium, not “low.” “Lower” just means they’re not as sky-high as the original. Take soy sauce: Regular has a stunning 1,006 mg a tablespoon; lower still has 533 mg.
Hang in there. If food’s not food for you without lots of salt, cut back slowly, and keep the party in your mouth going with herbs, spices, a spritz of lemon or lime or a splash of balsamic vinegar (we even love balsamic on popcorn). Try basil, coriander, garlic, onion, turmeric or whatever other seasonings suit you. It can take eight to 12 weeks to lose a taste for extra-salty foods. Wait it out, and your taste buds will thrill to the sophisticated, satisfying rainbow of flavors in healthy foods. It worked for us. We promise it’ll happen for you, too.

The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz
and Mike Roizen, are authors of
“YOU: On a Diet.” Want more? See “The Dr. Oz Show” on TV (check local listings). To submit questions, go to

(c) 2011 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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