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Salt Substitutes: Are they Safe

A good way to shake your salt habit?

Q: I have high blood pressure, and my doctor has restricted me to a low-sodium diet of less than 1,500 mg a day. Are salt substitutes a good alternative?

A: While the spice aisle in your grocery store abounds with salt substitutes, they are not a healthy option for everyone. Many contain potassium chloride in place of sodium chloride, and potassium consumed in excess may be harmful for some people. For example, many people with kidney problems are unable to rid their bodies of excessive potassium, which could result in a deadly situation. If you have kidney problems or are on medication for your heart, kidneys or liver, check with your doctor before using salt substitutes.

Otherwise, a salt substitute containing potassium chloride is an acceptable alternative in moderation.
Some salt substitutes labeled “lite” or “low sodium” still contain sodium, just less than what’s found in table salt. These products often contain a mix of sodium chloride and potassium chloride. If a product is labeled “sodium free,” the main ingredient is potassium chloride without sodium.

Keep in mind that a 1,500 mg sodium restriction includes TOTAL sodium for the day. This includes prepared foods, not just the seasoning you add. Keep a keen eye on nutrition labels, and try to eat servings of foods that contain 140 mg or less of sodium, which qualifies them as “low sodium.”

Ideally, your best bet is to go salt free. Instead of mimicking the taste of sodium with salt substitutes, experiment with flavorful herbs and spices. Try fresh garlic or garlic powder, lemon juice, flavored vinegar, salt-free herb blends, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, fresh ground pepper, tarragon and oregano.

Often, the preference for salt is learned, meaning you can unlearn your craving. By reducing your craving, you can learn to appreciate new flavors and flavor combinations. Gradually add salt-free herbs and spices into your favorite recipes, and soon you won't even miss salt!

Julia Zumpano, RD, is a registered dietitian who works with patients at Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Cardiovascular Center. To schedule a heart-healthy nutrition consultation, call 800.890.2467.