The use of sea salt is becoming more popular these days, its presence can be found in savory and sweet dishes alike. Some tout it to be a healthier alternative to regular table salt, stating that it offers more trace minerals and a “saltier” taste per teaspoon -thus reducing the amount needed in cooking to add flavor. But is there really a difference between the two types or should this proclamation be taken with a “grain of salt”? Read more.
Do you tend to have a heavy hand with the salt? If you do, you are not alone. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a sodium intake that is no more than 2,300 mg/day for individuals 2 years of age and older – that is about 1 teaspoon of salt per day. The recommendations for at-risk populations (African-Americans, adults 40 years and older, and hypertensive individuals) is lower, set at no more than 1,500 mg/day. However, the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg/day of sodium. Why is this so bad? Sodium stimulates your kidneys to retain water. This, in turn, increases your blood volume. An increased blood volume can cause hypertension (high blood pressure). And, hypertension increases your risk for developing heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.
Individuals who are at-risk and/or are “salt sensitive” – that is, more susceptible to the effects of salt on the body – need to take particular care concerning sodium intake; however, all individuals need to lower consumption to reduce health risks. Last April, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its report Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. In this publication, the IOM states that a collaborative effort is needed to reduce the amount of sodium Americans consume. Part of this strategy entails new government standards for sodium content in foods produced by food manufacturers, restaurants, and foodservice providers. The ultimate goal is to set a standard sodium level for commercially prepared foods that is considered to be safe. This reduction is to occur graduallyso as to allow the American palate to adjust accordingly without change being significantly noticed. Likewise, the IOM is calling upon Americans themselves to make wiser choices about food products and to limit sodium content in home-prepard foods. Other sectors of society, such as health professionals and public-private corporations are asked to support the implementation of sodium guidelines by food producers as well as to encourage fellow Americans to follow a lower sodium diet.
How can you take action to reduce the sodium in your diet?
- Gradually lower your intake of sodium to the recommended level.
- Purchase items labeled as “low salt,” “low sodium,” “no salt added,” and “sodium free.”
- Avoid adding salt while cooking foods such as rice, pasta, whole-grain cereals, and vegetables.
- Add flavor by using salt-free spices and herbs instead of salt. Good salt-free alternatives include lemon-pepper blends, all-spice, paprika, curry powder, turmeric, dry mustard, caraway seeds, sesame seeds, basil, dill, and garlic. Using lemon juice and vinegar can also add flavor without the need for salt.
- Watch out for hidden sources of sodium, such as some over-the-counter and prescription medications, certain natural foods (e.g., olives and seafood), and baking soda and baking powder.
Although it is important to reduce your sodium intake to the recommended safe level, do not eliminate salt completely from your diet. Sodium is essential for proper muscle function, neurotransmission of impulses and fluid regulation and balance in your body.
How have you reduced the amount of sodium in your diet? Share with us, we want to know!
Sources for more information
Institute of Medicine
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
The sodium content of some fast food meals may exceed recommended daily levels for adults.
You might be getting more than you bargained for when you bite into that cheeseburger or chicken sandwich you purchased from your favorite fast food restaurant. But, this is not the “buy one get one free” offer you want. According to a study published in the April 26, 2010 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, fast food meals are not only high in calories, but contain an excessive amount of sodium as well – with 20% of the total meals studied containing more than the recommended daily amount for adults, which is 2,300 mg.
If you think you are making a healthier choice by choosing a chicken dish over a hamburger meal when dining at a fast food chain, think again. The current study found that 55% of the meals at fried chicken restaurants contained more than 2,300 mg of sodium. Meals from the fried chicken establishments also contained, on average, 66 more calories per meal than from burger chains. Furthermore, the chicken meals contained nearly 900 mg more sodium than burger meals.
Data from the recent study was obtained from 6,580 lunch hour receipts of adult patrons from 167 fast food chain restaurants. The sodium content of the average meal (from both chicken and burger chains) was 1,751 mg – with 57% of all purchases exceeding 1,500 mg of sodium. Considering that 75% of all dining out experiences occur either at casual or fast food chain establishments, these findings highlight a major public health concern. Excessive amounts of sodium consumption can lead to elevated blood pressure levels. Having a high blood pressure condition, known as hypertension, increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Fortunately, according to the authors of the study, The American Medical Association is calling upon the food manufacturing industry to reduce the sodium content by 50% in processed foods and restaurant meals. Some fast food chain establishments are already making changes. In the mean time, how can you make a healthier choice the next time you visit a fast food restaurant? Check the establishment’s website. Many now post nutrition information for the meals on their menus, which you can access prior to your dining experience. For healthy decisions that have to be made on the fly, use the “Shop to Lose” app for the iPhone which provides the nutritional information, including sodium content, for several restaurants.