Cutting Back on Sodium
Healthy Habits for Healthy Living
Cutting Back on Sodium
We shake a little here, a little extra there to get our food to taste just right before we dig in. And we do this in addition to eating processed foods and restaurant food on a regular basis, which experts say is where most of our sodium intake comes from. But is all of this sodium we’re eating really damaging our long-term cardiovascular health? Before we answer that question, let’s take a few moments to learn more about sodium.
Our bodies need sodium to function properly. Sodium is critical for the functioning of muscles and nerves and for the regulation of blood pressure. Too much sodium may lead to high blood pressure or hypertension in those who are sensitive to sodium. Sodium can also lead to a serious build-up of fluid in people with congestive heart failure, cirrhosis or kidney disease. Such people are usually on strict sodium-restricted diets, as prescribed by their doctor.
About 10% of the sodium we consume occurs naturally in foods. The majority of sodium in our diets comes from what is added to processed foods. It is usually in the form of sodium chloride, which is table salt, but there are many other forms used in our foods. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrite, sodium saccharin, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and sodium benzoate are commonly use as ingredients in condiments and seasonings such as Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, onion salt, garlic salt, and bouillon cubes.
Processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, and ham, canned and instant soups, canned vegetables, olives, pickles, salted snack foods, and processed cheeses are all examples of foods that contain added sodium. Fast foods are also generally very high in sodium.
Sodium and Hypertension (High blood pressure)
Much debate exists within the scientific community regarding whether or not restricting salt is of benefit, but the evidence linking added dietary salt to higher blood pressure is overwhelming. Here is what we do know:
- High blood pressure is extraordinarily common in the United States-74.5 million Americans or 34% of U.S. adults have hypertension. Thirty six percent of Americans have prehypertension, blood pressure numbers that are higher than normal, but not yet in the hypertensive range
- Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease.
- According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, hypertension causes 5 million premature deaths per year worldwide. And about 62% of strokes and 49% of heart attacks are caused by hypertension.
- Dietary factors that increase blood pressure include excessive sodium and insufficient potassium intake, overweight and obesity, and excess alcohol consumption.
The American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines all conclude that virtually all Americans could benefit from a reduction in their sodium intake to less than 2300 milligrams (mg) per day which is about 1 teaspoon of table salt. African Americans, people aged 50 and older, and those with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should reduce their daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams, or about two-thirds of a teaspoon.
Where to Begin?
Since the majority of sodium consumed in this country comes from processed foods and restaurant meals, the path to a meaningful salt restriction needs to begin here.
- Limit the days per week you eat out and if you do eat out, limit the amount of food eaten in restaurants by consuming smaller portions
- Cut back on refined, processed foods and consume more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat and whole grains
- Plain frozen vegetables, without cheese or butter sauces, are packaged without added salt
- Experiment with fresh herbs or spice rubs
- There are no nutritional benefits to using sea salt. Even though sea salt is often marketed as a more natural and healthy alternative, it is still sodium chloride
- Read food labels to choose products lower in sodium. Look for reduced sodium or no salt added canned vegetables and soups.
- Look for the Low Sodium shelf tag at Marsh Supermarkets. This tag identifies those foods that contain less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
The point is not to avoid salt completely. A little bit—about the amount of 1 teaspoon of table salt a day—is OK for your health. Just remember, when it comes to sodium, less is certainly more.
Have specific nutrition related questions? Feel free to contact me.
|___||Mary Snell, MS RD CD
Director of Nutrition and Wellness