MARCH IS NATIONAL NUTRITION MONTH…LET’S EAT RIGHT WITH LESS SALT!
Let’s eat right with less salt! Most of us consume more than we realize, and you may be surprised to learn the majority of our salt or sodium intake does not come from the salt shaker.
Even bread and cereals have added sodium, with some containing as much as 230 mg per serving. While we need sodium in our bodies to regulate blood pressure and take part in some cell functions, too much may be dangerous.
It is estimated that most Americans consume between 3000-4000 mg of sodium per day. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day with a goal of fewer than 1500 mg per day to manage blood pressure, a major cause of stroke and heart disease.
SODIUM AND BLOOD PRESSURE
Sodium attracts water into the bloodstream, increasing its volume. Consequently, the increase in blood volume results in an elevation of blood pressure which is damaging to artery walls.
Over an extended period of time, damage to arteries and the organs they supply increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. Conversely, studies find reducing sodium intake and thereby lowering blood pressure, decreases those risks.
EAT RIGHT WITH LESS SALT BY FINDING WHERE IT’S
Putting down the salt shaker alone is not enough. Most of the sodium in our diet comes from hidden sodium that has been added during processing. Some unexpected sources of added sodium include over-the-counter medications, sports drinks, and cereals.
Unfortunately, we can’t avoid all processed foods. And minimally processed foods that are simply cut or prepped for convenience do not usually have added sodium. This includes items such as bagged spinach, roasted nuts, cut-up vegetables, and frozen fruit.
In some instances, processing can actually improve the food such as fortified cereals, and the addition of calcium to orange juice and vitamin D to milk.
On the other hand, more heavily processed foods such as prepared frozen dinners or deli meats, frozen pizza, and hot dogs have a significantly higher sodium content. Manufacturers use salt in food processing for improving flavor, extending shelf life, enhancing color, or acting as a binding agent. Unfortunately, the end product is usually a less-than-healthy choice.
The worst offenders are:
-Canned soups, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, pasta sauce, catsup, and gravy.
-Meat tenderizer, and taco mixes.
-Deli meats and, sausages.
-Baking mixes, biscuit mixes.
-Chips, popcorn, pretzels, and crackers.
-Garlic or onion salt.
Since not everything with added salt tastes salty, it is important to know where to look for it, and to shift to eating more fresh foods which are naturally low in sodium. The Nutrition Facts label and ingredient lists can help you uncover hidden sodium and assist you in deciding which food items are your best choice.
READING THE NUTRITION FACTS LABEL AND INGREDIENT LISTS
NUTRITION FACTS LABEL
|About 9 servings per container|
|Serving size 1 cup (42g)|
|Total Fat 2g 2%|
|Saturated Fat 0g 0%|
|Trans Fat 0g|
|Polyunsat. Fat 0.5g|
|Monounsat. Fat 0.5g|
|Cholesterol 0mg 0%|
|Sodium 200mg 9%|
|Total Carb. 33g 12%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g 10%|
|Total Sugars 10g|
|Incl. Added Sugars 10g 19%|
The Nutrition Facts label gives us a lot of information to help make wise food choices. For instance, it tells us how many calories are in one serving, as well as the type and amount of other nutrients.
Here is a Nutrition Facts label taken from a box of cereal. The serving size is one-cup and provides 200 mg of sodium. A rule of thumb is to select food with less than or equal to 200 mg of sodium per serving.
You can also use the %DV (Percent Daily Value) tool. The daily value of a nutrient is the amount you need or should not exceed in one day. Sodium’s daily value is 2300mg per day. In this Nutrition Facts label, one serving provides 9% of the daily needs for sodium.
Use this information to compare foods and avoid exceeding 100% DV each day. As a rule of thumb, foods providing less than 5% DV are considered low in sodium while those providing greater than 20% DV are considered high.
INGREDIENT LISTS allow us to see what is in the food, as well as what has been added in the processing. Look for ingredients that have the word sodium or salt in them, such as:
-Monosodium glutamate, or MSG (often added to Chinese food)
For example, looking at the ingredient list from the same box of cereal above, we find two sources of added sodium:
Here we find both salt and disodium phosphate which contribute to the 200 mg of sodium we found on the Nutrition Facts label.
When reading ingredient lists, also keep in mind that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. In other words, the first ingredient, in this case, whole grain oat flour, is present in the largest amount.
HOW TO INTERPRET “LOW SODIUM” CLAIMS
Grocery store shelves have become full of items claiming to be “low sodium” or “reduced sodium”. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know what these claims really mean?
Here is the Food and Drug Association’s guide to common claims regarding sodium in processed foods:
WHAT ABOUT SEA SALT?
Sea salt is extracted from seawater and may contain some trace minerals not found in table salt. However, this depends on the body of water from which it was extracted. Table salt has iodine added, which is important for thyroid health.
Both salts contain the same amount of sodium by weight, therefore each will affect blood pressure similarly. However, because the crystal size of sea salt is larger, you may end up using less.
THE BOTTOM LINE TO EATING RIGHT WITH LESS SALT
Excess sodium in our diets is a known contributor to high blood pressure and the risk it poses for heart disease and stroke. Even when we don’t use added salt, we may be consuming more sodium than we realize.
Unfortunately, many highly processed foods contain large amounts of added sodium. Oftentimes these foods don’t taste salty, therefore knowing where to find hidden sodium is key.
Look at the Nutrition Facts label to become more aware of the sodium content of everyday foods. Scan ingredient lists for hidden sodium. Compare the same item from different manufacturers and become familiar with the “low sodium” claims they make.
Finally, making a shift toward eating more fresh foods and homemade meals will give you the best control over the amount of sodium in your diet. Experiment with herbs and seasonings in place of added salt to find new ways to spice up your diet!