Salt is our absolute favorite, but it’s easy to overdo it. So easy, in fact, that about 90% of Americans overindulge on the regular, according to our friends at the American Heart Association. While we’re supposed to have only 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, we eat more than 3,400 milligrams. Eek.
“The vast majority of sodium we consume is in processed and restaurant foods,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in its Sodium Reduction Initiative. “Nearly nine in 10 U.S. children eat more sodium than recommended, and about one in nine children has raised blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.”
One of the main culprits of our sodium addiction: The snacks we turn to between meals are often packed with preservatives and way too much salt, the Food and Drug Administration reports, and the AHA specifically called out manufactured food as being responsible for 65% of our salt intake. At least we can feel a bit better about the meals we make from scratch at home, right?
Some sodium is a necessary ingredient for life—it helps control the balance of fluids in your system, sends nerve impulses and aids in muscle movement. “The human body can’t live without some sodium,” Harvard University writes in its Heart Letter. “It’s needed to transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscle fibers (including those in the heart and blood vessels) and maintain a proper fluid balance. It doesn’t take much to do this. The Yanomamo people of the Amazon rainforest get by on just 200 milligrams of sodium a day (about the amount found in one-tenth teaspoon of salt).”
A little extra salt might not seem like that big of a deal, but in the long run, it can be pretty terrible. Too much sodium forces your body to hold on to water and makes your blood pressure rise. High blood pressure forces your heart, arteries, kidneys and brain to work double time, which could lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and even dementia, according to the UK Blood Pressure Association. The water retention can cause bloating (bye, skinny jeans), give you headaches and make you gain weight. It’s been linked to stomach cancer, too.
It might be difficult to know if you should cut back on the salt, especially when you’re not the one preparing the foods you’re snacking on. There are a few things to look out for, though. First, check out those nutrition labels on the products you’re picking up at the grocery store—you might be shocked to see the sodium totals that end up flooding your system. Make a point, too, to pay attention to how you’re feeling during your typical day-to-day. Are you overly tired and noticing some bloat? Have you gained weight? Do you eat at restaurants often, where the food is delicious but swimming in salt?
If you’re nodding along to the above, don’t freak out. You’ve come to the right place.
We know what you’re thinking. And no, nixing the salt doesn't mean tasteless cardboard food, and it won’t limit you to only celery. Below, find out how to cut back and discover what you can munch on to replace those sodium-drenched snacks while still feeling satisfied.
1. Toss the Salt Shaker
OK, you don’t literally have to throw away your salt shaker, but maybe stick it in the back of your cupboard. One recommendation from the Cleveland Clinic’s tips for a low-sodium diet is to eliminate the temptation to reach for it when you’re eating—especially at snack time when you’re craving something tasty. Salting your food (in moderation) while you’re cooking should season it enough that you won’t even look for the shaker later on.
2. …And All of Its Friends
Garlic salt, onion salt, meat tenderizers, store-bought broths and stocks, soy sauce, Chinese food, teriyaki and barbecue sauces, sauerkraut, relishes, croutons, plus those olives, pickles and cured meats on your charcuterie board are all high in salt, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Even some of the allegedly “low-sodium” options on the market have much higher amounts of salt per serving than are recommended. If you have to buy these things for convenience, look for straight-up unsalted options.
3. Try Other Flavors
Salt might be the most popular seasoning in your pantry, but this is a fantastic time to utilize all the other flavors that are already in your kitchen. Try vinegar, lemon juice or orange juice for meat, fish or chicken marinades, add aromatics like garlic and onion, and sprinkle in spices like cayenne, coriander, cumin or cardamom.
4. Bypass the Freezer Section
Sure, they’re convenient, but frozen snacks like saucy, boneless chicken wings, mini pizza bagels, chain-restaurant appetizers and cheesy microwaveable pockets are all jam-packed with salt. We know they’re convenient, but take a Sunday afternoon and make your own pizza bagels with low-sodium tomato sauce, then freeze them for a rainy day. It’ll take less than an hour, and you’ll always have a healthy-ish option on hand when you feel like snacking.
5. DIY It
The best way to curb and control your salt intake? Always make your meals yourself so you know exactly what and how much of it is in what you’re eating—just remember to resist any heavy-handed action when seasoning your food. Which brings us to those snack suggestions…
1. Roasted Edamame
Arguably the best part of going out for sushi is the salty edamame appetizer. Roast these yourself at home and cut the sodium way down for a healthy snack.
2. Oven-Dried Tomatoes
Like sun-dried but better, this recipe calls for literally no salt whatsoever. Bake them to crispy perfection, toss with a little olive oil and some fresh herbs, and call it a snack.
3. Roasted Poblano and Corn Guacamole
There are so many flavors in this spicy, healthy guac that you won’t even need to add salt to make it delicious.
4. Easy Zucchini Chips
A bag of standard potato chips is one of the saltiest, most addictive snacks in the game. Roast up thin slices of healthier vegetables yourself and indulge in “chips” without the guilt.
5. Falafel Patties
Instead of deep-frying these herbed and spiced chickpea fritters and covering them with salt, we recommend lightly dusting them with salt while they gently sauté in a pan.
6. Buffalo Chicken Meatballs
Like wings without the mess, these buffalo chicken meatballs are freezer-friendly and the recipe calls for only one teaspoon of salt for eight servings.
7. Sweet Potato Crostini
For when you’re feeling fancy but still healthy, these pretty little bites swap out bread for sweet potatoes and barely need any salt with all that salmon-cranberry-almond action.
8. ‘Fruicuterie’ Board
We swapped out all the overly salted cured meats for sweet and tangy fruits but kept the cheese in this aptly named “fruicuterie” board. Win, win.
9. Healthy Grab-and-Go Snack Jars
Entirely customizable and ready for action, these jars are packed with fresh slices of your favorite fruits or vegetables, plus a bit of nut butter or hummus.
10. Blueberry Coconut Energy Bites
Coterie member Maria Lichty whips up these sweet and vegan-friendly bites without a shake of salt added.
11. Beet Hummus
The only thing better than hummus? Pink hummus that barely needs any salt at all. Slice up some veggies to serve alongside this showstopper.
12. Apple, Beet, Carrot and Kale Salad
Five simple ingredients—plus an orange Dijon dressing—and not one of them is salt.