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Sodium is an element your body requires to function properly, but many people consume far more sodium than they need, and a habitual surplus may up health risks. Sodium is found in some whole, fresh foods. For example, one cup of raw spinach provides 24 mg of sodium, and one cup of chopped raw carrots provides 88 mg. Sodium is also added to many processed foods, and it’s a component of salt. What we refer to as ‘salt’ is technically sodium chloride, which is 40% sodium and 60% chloride.

In the United States, the maximum daily sodium recommendation is between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams (the lower limit if you have high blood pressure or heart disease risks, the higher limit if you’re healthy). The average adult consumes far more than the recommended cap, on average 3,400 milligrams each day, with about 70% coming from processed foods.

A long-term intake of too much sodium has been linked to high blood pressure, and a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and reduced brain function. Experts estimate that reducing our sodium intakes to the recommended levels could result in 11 million fewer cases of high blood pressure each year.

SODIUM HEALTH TIPS

1. EAT MORE FRESH FOOD

Apples may not be as rich in vitamins and minerals as other fruits, but they’re loaded with antioxidants, and they’re a terrific source of fiber. One large apple packs over five grams of fiber, 20% of the minimum daily goal, a key nutrient for heart and digestive health, as well as weight control. Apples have also been shown to slash heart disease risk by decreasing “bad” cholesterol and upping “good” cholesterol. Other research links apples to better blood sugar regulation, lung function, and even an increase in muscle. Enjoy apples “as is,” sliced with nut butter, oven baked, whipped into smoothies, or added to savory dishes, like sautéed cabbage and stir frys..

2. SCOPE OUT SODIUM SOURCES

One cup of cooked Brussels sprouts provides less than 70 calories, but packs over six grams of fiber. They’re also a great source of vitamin K, which helps clot blood and strengthen bones. Along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts are a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, which has been linked to protection against both cancer and heart disease. To cook healthfully remove the outer leaves, slice in half lengthwise, toss with a little olive oil, roast in the oven, then lightly dust with cracked black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

3. SEASON WITHOUT SALT

Cauliflower provides several key nutrients, including fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K, and folate. But its most impressive benefits are tied to other natural substances it packs, which have been shown to de-activate cancer causing substances, and “turn on” genes that kill cancer cells or slow their growth. Research also shows that compounds in cauliflower protect the bends and branches of blood vessels, areas most prone to cholesterol build-up and inflammation, which makes them a powerful heart protector. Oven roast cauliflower just like Brussels sprouts, or sauté florets in seasoned low sodium veggie broth. Cauliflower pureed with broth and flavored with olive oil, garlic, and herbs also makes a fantastic alternative to mashed potatoes.