A light touch with the salt shaker might help your health. While the body needs a tiny bit of salt, most people get way too much. Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which raises the risk of serious health problems like stroke and heart attack. Heart disease and stroke are two of the main causes of death in the U.S.

But not adding too much salt to your foods is just the tip of the iceberg lettuce. Unless you take a close look at each thing you eat, you’re likely facing a hidden threat. Salt isn’t just in the foods that you’d expect, like crackers and chips and other salty-tasting snacks. Sometimes it lurks in places you wouldn’t expect.

Foods that have salt don’t always taste salty. Salt is in sweets. It’s in sauces. It’s in canned vegetables, which surely sound like a healthy choice. The salt adds up because it’s in these and other common foods, like pizza, poultry, sandwiches and soups.

Lower Your Intake

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) promotes World Salt Awareness Week to urge people to lower their daily intake of hidden salt to help lower their blood pressure.

You only need a tiny bit of salt to help your body do its work. Less than one-tenth of a teaspoon per day, says the Harvard Medical School. An average American gets 20 times that, and some people hold water as a result. That raises the amount of fluid flowing through your blood vessels, which can boost blood pressure.

AAFP suggests taking these steps to stay healthy:

  • Check nutrition labels for salt or sodium content.
  • Buy no-salt-added frozen and canned vegetables.
  • Skip processed foods.
  • Check out restaurant websites to find nutrition facts for their meals.
  • Talk to your doctor about checking your blood pressure.
  • Cook and eat at home more often.

Try these tips for using less salt when you’re cooking:

  • Use spices for flavor instead of salt.
  • Add nuts to get flavor from healthy fats.
  • Roast food to bring out the flavor.
  • Get your whole grains with steel-cut oats, farro and other whole grains instead of breads.
  • Shop for in-season produce to get the most flavor.
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What about sea salt? It may be sold as a natural or healthier choice. But the only differences between sea salt and table salt are processing, texture and taste. Both sea and table salt have the same amount of sodium by weight.

The Worst Offenders

More than 70 percent of salt we eat comes from restaurant, processed or packaged foods.

Breads, sandwiches and pizza are at the top of the salt pile. One slice of bread might have as much as 230 milligrams (mg) of sodium. That’s 10 percent of the daily recommended amount in one piece. Canned soups are often high in salt, as are processed tomato products and salad dressings.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans offer tips for making healthier food choices. They suggest that most people eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Most people eat an average of 3,400 mg each day.

The Food and Drug Administration is urging restaurants and others who prepare foods for sale to cut the amount of salt in the food they make. That’s key because the FDA has found half of all the money Americans spend on food goes for food consumed outside the home.

magnifying_glassBecome a salt sleuth.

Take the time to find out what you’re eating that has hidden salt. Once you know the worst culprits in your diet, you’ll be able to make better choices. Managing your salt intake can help keep your blood pressure in check and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.