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You should be eating less salt. So how do you actually do that?

Health Advisor is a regular column where contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging. Follow us @Globe_Health.

Think you don't have much salt or sodium in your diet? Well, think again. Most Canadians don't realize they actually consume enough salt to put them at risk of developing high blood pressure or hypertension, the reigning silent killer of our generation. So how to make sense of Canada's salt guidelines in daily life?

Here are the facts: High blood pressure, affecting more than 1 in 5 Canadians, is the No. 1 risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease. Thirty per cent of hypertension is also attributed to high dietary sodium.

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Health Canada recommends a limit of 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams per day of sodium in our diets for adults, the equivalent of about one teaspoon of salt. In reality, the average Canadian consumes 3,400 mg of sodium everyday, with a large majority (75 per cent) of our sodium coming from processed, packaged and restaurant foods.

"Reducing sodium intake by 1,200 mg per day would result in a significant decrease in heart attack, stroke and death from vascular disease. Women would benefit particularly from stroke reduction, and older adults from reductions in coronary artery disease," says my colleague Dr. Barry Rubin, medical director of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.

The first, easiest thing to do is get rid of the salt shaker. All types of salt are high in sodium, including table salt, Kosher salt, sea salt, fleur de sel, gourmet salt and seasoning salts. However, only a small proportion (11 per cent) of the sodium that is consumed comes from what's added to food during cooking or at the table. This is indeed a great first step. But don't stop there!

The absolute best way to reduce dietary sodium intake is to increase the amount of meals we cook from scratch. Keep in mind that prepared marinades, condiments such as ketchup and mustard, commercially prepared salad dressings and sauces such as BBQ, soy and Teriyaki are high in sodium.

A common misconception is healthy meals take too long to prepare. With some simple planning, a well-stocked kitchen and easy-to-prepare recipes, weeknight meals can be both healthy and affordable. Cook large batches and freeze extra portions so weeknight suppers can be reheated in a snap.

Frozen and prechopped vegetables, along with "no salt added" products such as canned tomatoes and broths, are great time-savers.

Read the Nutrition Facts labels on foods to compare the amount of sodium in prepackaged products. Aim for foods that are less than 5 per cent of the Daily Value (DV) of sodium. A DV of 15 per cent or more is too high.

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Consider the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan: It's rich in fruits and vegetables and includes low- and non-fat dairy, whole grains, lean meats, fish, poultry, legumes (dried beans and lentils) and nuts. For more information, visit www.dashdiet.org.

Margaret Brum is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She works in the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre Cardiology Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital and the Toronto Western Hospital GoodLife Fitness Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Unit. LINK: www.petermunkcardiaccentre.ca

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