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Lyle’s challenge: Eat less salt

Focused on Health - November 2013

by Adelina Espat 

Take this challenge in the Healthy Bites series. Lyle Rhymes did it. And so can you!

“I didn’t realize how much salt is in almost everything we eat,” says Lyle Rhymes, who completed the Healthy Bites salt challenge.

“Diabetes runs in my family so my health is top priority,” Lyle says. “Before Healthy Bites, I thought I was doing a pretty good job at cutting back on salt. Then, I learned eating less salt means more than just putting down the salt shaker.”

dietitian“Even if you don’t add salt to your food, there’s still a good chance you’re eating more salt than you should,” says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson and the Healthy Bites challenge coach. “That’s because half a teaspoon of salt alone has almost 1,200 milligrams of salt.” 

A healthy dose of sodium for most people is no more than 2,400 milligrams per day. “If you’re age 51 or older, African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, you shouldn’t eat more than 1,500 milligrams per day,” Mary Ellen says.

Eating too much salt can increase your risk of stomach cancer. It also can cause high blood pressure.

Lyle takes the salt challenge

lyle rhymes“Completing this challenge was eye opening for me,” Lyle says. “I found out that many of my favorite foods, like canned soup, are loaded with salt.”  

Even if your food doesn’t taste salty, it still can be high in salt. Watch out for hidden salts in these foods:

  • Canned vegetables and beans
  • Frozen meals
  • Breads
  • Chips and crackers
  • Processed meats, like bacon and sausage
  • Soups

“Some foods, like cheeses, seafood and olives, are naturally higher in salt,” Mary Ellen says. “So, eat these foods in moderation as well.”

Mary Ellen suggests avoiding foods with more than 600 milligrams of sodium per serving. And, pay attention to the serving sizes of foods so you don’t get extra salt.

READ ALSO: Nutrition tips: Eat food with less salt 

What worked for Lyle

spoon of salt“Before the challenge, I was consuming 2,400 to 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day,” Lyle says. “During the challenge, I was able to get it down to 1,500 to 2,400 milligrams a day. It was hard and took quite a bit of planning.”

Lyle offers this advice:

  • Educate yourself: “I wasn’t sure what foods were high in sodium. So, I learned to read nutrition labels on foods before I eat them. Doing this really changed my diet. For example, I used to eat a lot of mustards and ketchup. Then, I realized how high they are in salt.” 
  • Use fresh ingredients: “I’m a bachelor, so eating canned and quick pre-packaged foods was convenient for me. But those foods usually have the most salt. Mary Ellen suggested I eat fresh food instead because it tends to have less salt. Now, I buy frozen veggies instead of canned.”
  • Add flavor without salt: “When I cook, I try not to use salt – not even light salt. Instead, I’m getting used to adding fresh herbs and spices.”
  • Snack on low-salt foods: “I love to snack in the evening and always thought pretzels were a healthy option. But, those too are loaded with salt. So, I started keeping low-salt foods in my desk. Now when I have a snack impulse, I can grab something healthy to eat. I love nuts so I switched to unsalted nuts. I also keep carrots and celery instead of chips.”

READ ALSO: Recipes low in salt

“My advice is to not procrastinate. Start immediately with the next thing you put in your mouth,” Lyle says. “You’ll be so much better off. And the more you do it the more likely it’ll become a habit.”

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