Lowering Sodium Intake

by Sue Taggart

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), decreasing sodium intake will save tens of thousands of lives.  Too much sodium is linked to increased blood pressure and by lowering blood pressure you will lower the risk of heart disease or stroke. The problem with sodium is not what we put on our food, it’s what is hidden in our food. The natural sodium content of most foods is around 10% of the recommended daily intake, with a further 5-10% coming from the salt shaker—the rest is from processed and prepared foods. That is why the government wants the food and restaurant industries to take control of lowering the sodium content in the meals and foods we buy. There is a tremendous effort going on and some companies have already reduced sodium levels by 10-25%.

The Dietary Guidelines of 2010 recommend less than 2,300mg of sodium a day, but for high risk individuals it should be around 15,00mg. The average American, despite all the warnings, is still consuming on average a whopping 3,600mg!

According to Janelle Peralez-Gunn, M.P.H., R.D., public health analyst with the CDCP the top sources of sodium from processed and prepared foods include yeast breads, chicken and chicken mixed dishes, pizza, pasta dishes, cold cuts, Mexican dishes, sausage, franks, bacon, ribs, cheese, condiments, grain-based desserts, soups and beef dishes.

The National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) has a goal to reduce Americans’ salt intake by 20% over five years. They are looking at 62 categories of packages foods and 25 categories of restaurant food. NSRI a coalition of cities, states and health organizations are working with food companies and restaurants to achieve that goal. Companies have already signed on to the program and can be found here.

While organizations, food companies, restaurants and health professionals are working to reduce sodium levels in our foods, let’s help ourselves by taking responsibility of what and how we eat.

Here are some simple tips to cut down on sodium:

– Cook from scratch – preparing meals at home from fresh produce and ingredients means you can control the salt you use. A little extra time will dramatically reduce your sodium intake.

– Eat more fruits and vegetables – by filling up with healthy fresh fruits and vegetables you will eat less sodium rich snacks, it will help your waistline too.

– Read labels – Sodium is lurking where you least expect it. All prepared, frozen, bottled and canned foods have sodium, make sure you know your daily intake level and become a label-reading fanatic.

– Animal products – I know that bacon tastes great, but processed, smoked and cured meats and fish are ridiculously high in sodium. Make them a once in a while treat!

– Eating out – Check menus online before you go out. Avoid fast-foods, Chinese food and soy sauce and ask your server for low-sodium options or request that they make your meal without sodium. Restaurants often have heart-healthy selections on the menu that tend to be lower in fat and sodium.

– Snack healthy – Avoid salty snacks like potato chips, choose unsalted nuts and seeds instead. Also check out the sodium content in cookies and desserts, you’ll be surprised where sodium sneaks in!

– Watch the condiments – You could have the healthiest meal and then pile on the sodium with the condiments like salad dressings, ketchups, sauces and dips. Check those labels and if in doubt only use a really small amount.

– Cheese – If you took the sodium out of cheese it would be as tasteless as plastic. Now, cheese is my favorite thing in the world, would I give it up, no way. The only way to have your cheese and eat it too—moderation!

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