Saint Louis University

Author: Amanda Finks
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012

As a dietetic intern, I recently completed a Community-Health Promotion rotation at a local hospital. I was asked to hold a lunch and learn session in the cafeteria where I set up a table and talked to staff, visitors, and patients about a current topic. It was suggested that I talk about salt as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had just reported that kids are eating just as much salt as adults, which is far too much. These new findings show that kids are eating about 3,300 mg of sodium a day which is 1,000 mg above the recommendation of 2,300 mg for most people. The current recommendations are trending downward as the American Heart Association recommends that kids and adults stay under 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns salt intake

Excessive salt consumption is linked to high blood pressure, even in kids. Of the kids studied, fifteen percent had either high blood pressure or elevated blood pressure. Research suggests that those who are overweight or obese are most vulnerable to the effects of salt.

Keep in mind, foods that have lower sodium contents are usually foods that have had little processing. For example, one cup of canned green beans contains 332 mg of sodium, while one cup of fresh green beans contains 7 mg of sodium.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns salt intake

Convenience foods are often packed with sodium. For example, a tomato parmesan pasta made from a popular packaged mix contains 1125 mg of sodium in 1 1/2 cups. The following homemade version of this pasta only has 55 mg of sodium in 1 1/2 cups.

This is a quick and easy recipe that can be prepared in minutes and will let you control the amount of sodium in your meal.

Tomato Parmesan Pasta (adapted from Shiraz, 2003)


1 lb penne pasta (or pasta of choice)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint ripe cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (approximately 1.5 cups)
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese


Cook pasta according to directions on package. While the pasta is cooking, saute the garlic and the red pepper flakes in olive oil over medium heat. Don't let the garlic get brown. After 2-3 minutes, turn off the heat and add the cherry tomatoes to the pan. When pasta is done cooking and has been drained, add in the tomato mixture, basil, and pepper and mix well. Top with parmesan.

Serving Size 1 1/2 cup
Calories 190
Total Fat 9 g
Saturated Fat 1.5 g
Cholesterol 3 mg
Sodium 55 mg
Total Carbohydrate 24 g
Dietary Fiber 2 g
Sugars 3 g
Protein 6 g

How much do you know about salt?

Take the sodium quiz that was handed out during my lunch and learn session.

  1. Which food do you think is higher in sodium?
    1. fresh green beans
    2. frozen green beans
    3. canned green beans
  2. Spaghetti sauce can be a high source of sodium
    1. True
    2. False
  3. How much sodium does the American Heart Association recommend per day?
    1. 750 mg
    2. 1500 mg
    3. 3300 mg
    4. 4500 mg
  4. One large dill pickle has more than the American Heart Association’s daily recommendation for sodium.
    1. True
    2. False

Answers to quiz

  1. Answer: C. Canned vegetables typically have preservatives and salt added. Fresh or frozen vegetables are better options.
  2. Answer: True. Half a cup of spaghetti sauce may pack 554 mg of sodium. Look for no salt added versions of your favorite pasta sauces.
  3. Answer: B. The American Heart Association currently recommends 1500 mg of sodium per day.
  4. Answer: True. One large dill pickle has 1731 mg of sodium.

If you are trying to control your salt intake, here are a few things to try:

  1. Try to eat fresh foods instead of packaged and processed foods.
  2. Check food labels for the sodium content of foods.
  3. Try to avoid adding salt at the table.
  4. While cooking, use herbs and spices as salt alternatives.

The following link is to an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics guide to sodium-free flavoring tips. This guide lists many herbs and spices that pair well with different types of food.

American Heart Association. (2010). Frequently asked questions about sodium. Retrieved
Fat Secret. (2012). Sodium in pickles. Retrieved from
Knorr. (2012). Italian Sides. Retrieved from
Shiraz. (2003). Quick tomato, basil & garlic pasta dinner. Retrieved from
WebMD. (2012). Salt shockers slide show: High-sodium surprises. Retrieved from
Yang, Q., Zhang, Z., Kuklina, E., Fang, J., Ayala, C., Hong, Y., Loustalot, F., Dai, S., Gunn, J., Tian, N., Cogswell, M., Merritt, R. (2012). Sodium intake and blood pressure among US children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 130(4), 611-619. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-3870