Most people know that salt intake plays a role in blood pressure levels, and that high blood pressure contributes to heart disease and stroke. However, we don't always know which foods are high in salt, or how much salt we consume each day.

Salt is a combination of sodium and chloride, and it's the sodium part of salt that affects blood pressure and health. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 1500mg of sodium per day.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 75 percent of our usual sodium intake comes from packaged and processed foods. Basically any food that comes in a can or box has salt added as a preservative or for flavor.

The National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), a partnership of more than 90 state and local health authorities and national health organizations, set voluntary targets to reduce salt levels in 62 categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food by 2014. Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup Company, Delhaize America (parent company of Hannaford grocery stores), and Subway are examples of companies that participate in the NSRI.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that children and teens consume about the same amount of sodium as adults, increasing their risk of developing high blood pressure. The researchers found that kids who consumed the most sodium faced double the risk of having high blood pressure, compared to those who took in less sodium. For overweight or obese children, the risk was more than triple.

Use this information to help decipher food labels to reduce your family's sodium intake:

* "Sodium free" or "Salt free": Contains less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.

* "Unsalted" or "No salt added": No salt has been added.

* "Very low in sodium": Provides 35 milligrams of sodium (or less) per serving.

* "Low in sodium" or "Contains a small amount of sodium": Contains 140 milligrams of sodium (or less) per serving.

* "Reduced sodium" or "Less sodium": Provides at least 25 percent less sodium than the traditional product.

Read food labels carefully to determine sodium content, and whenever possible choose foods that contain less sodium.

Take the salt shaker off the table to help break the habit of automatically salting food.

We learn to like salty foods over time, and teaching our children to enjoy the natural, unsalted flavor of foods is one important way to promote lifelong good health.

Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food and fitness coach in Manchester and online at www.LynnGrieger.com. She's gradually reduced her reliance on salt, and now enjoys raw celery and green peppers without salt.