Why You Should Care About Salt and Diabetes

salting beef steak
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If you have diabetes, your first thought might be about sugar, not salt. But salt intake may be just as important for your health. Here's why you need to watch your salt intake and how to do that with diabetes.

Why Should You Care About Salt?

Salt is one of the main ways we get sodium in our diet. A high sodium intake can raise your blood pressure, which in turn raises your risk of heart disease and stroke – two conditions that are more common when you have type 2 diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association and the USDA both recommend an upper limit of 2,300 mg of sodium per day (that's the amount of sodium in a teaspoon of salt). To put that number in perspective, consider this: the average American takes in 3,440 mg of sodium each day. For people with high blood pressure, or who are elderly, the recommendation is more stringent: 1,500 mg per day.

How Can You Eat Less Salt?

If you're like most people, 75% of the sodium in your diet comes from restaurant and processed foods. Packaged and prepared foods tend to be laden with salt (it's a preservative and helps food taste good). Restaurant food is also notoriously salty, whether you're eating at a fast food restaurant or something fancier. So the big overall tip is to eat out less often and to eat more fresh, unprocessed foods at home.

Eat More of These Foods

Cooking with fresh, unprocessed foods is one of the biggest steps you can take to lowering the sodium in your diet. Rather than relying on prepared foods, try to make these foods the basis of your diet:

  • Fruits and vegetables: fresh or frozen; canned varieties usually have extra sodium
  • Whole grains: remember, bread often has lots of sodium. pasta and whole grains that you cook yourself only have the sodium you add to it
  • Nuts and seeds: Buy unsalted, preferably raw (you can roast them yourself)
  • Fresh or frozen meat, poultry, and seafood, not packed in saline or salt water
  • Dried beans, peas and lentils: Buy them dried and cook them yourself to save big on sodium
  • Packaged foods: If you're buying prepared broths and canned foods, look for "low-sodium" or "no salt added"

Watch Out for These Foods

Some foods tend to be especially high in sodium. If you're buying packaged, prepared foods, you'll want to read the nutrition facts label to see how much sodium the product contains. In addition to telling you how many milligrams of sodium are in each serving, the label will also translate that amount into percent of the daily value (the percentage of that 2,300 mg cap). Watch out for these foods, which tend to be particularly high in sodium:

  • Processed meat, such as bacon, sausage and lunch meats
  • Cheese
  • Prepared snack foods like potato chips and crackers
  • Condiments, such as ketchup can be loaded with salt
  • Salad dressings
  • Prepared soups and broth can be particularly high in sodium

Reduce your daily salt intake and take care of your heart.

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