Are you one of the many who reach for the salt shaker before even tasting your food?
Because you may not be particularly sensitive to the ill effects of sodium, and because there’s no way to know who might develop high blood pressure as a result of a high-sodium diet, it’s a good idea to be aware of what goes on your plate.*
Sodium is essential in regulating water balance, pH (acid balance), normal pressure in the fluids surrounding cells (extracellular) and in nerve transition. Because of these essential functions, sodium levels are tightly regulated by the body. Sodium intake can vary widely yet the human body remains healthy by maintaining relatively constant levels. But age, health conditions, consumption of other nutrients, and other variables can affect the way that the body handles sodium. Many people in the United States consume more than the recommended 2,300 mg limit as suggested in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines.
Here are the top 20 individual food sources of sodium in the American diet, which was based on the combination of frequency of consumption and sodium content:
1. Meat pizza
2. White bread
3. Processed cheese
4. Hot dogs
5. Spaghetti w/sauce
7. Catsup (ketchup)
8. Cooked rice (the way it’s seasoned, as plain rice contains no sodium at all)
9. White roll
10. Flour (wheat) tortilla
11. Salty snacks/corn chips
12. Whole milk
13. Cheese pizza
14. Noodle soups
15. Eggs (whole/fried/scrambled)
16. Macaroni w/cheese
17. Milk, 2%
18. French fries
19. Creamy salad dressings
20. Potato chips
Some good news: Below are 10 terrific tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to reduce your sodium intake:
- Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Also, fresh meat is lower in sodium than luncheon meat, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham are. Buy fresh and frozen poultry or meat that hasn’t been injected with a sodium-containing solution. Look on the label or ask your butcher.
- Opt for low-sodium products. If you do buy processed foods, select those that have reduced sodium.
- Remove salt from recipes whenever possible. You can leave out the salt in many recipes, including casseroles, stews and other main dishes. Baked goods are an exception. Leaving out the salt could affect the quality as well as the taste of the food.
- Limit your use of sodium-laden condiments. Salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard and relish all contain sodium.
- Use herbs, spices and other flavorings to enhance foods. Learn how to use fresh or dried herbs, spices, zest from citrus fruit, and fruit juices to jazz up your meals.
- Use salt substitutes wisely. Some salt substitutes or light salts contain a mixture of table salt (sodium chloride) and other compounds. To achieve that familiar salty taste, you may use too much of the substitute and actually not use less sodium. In addition, many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride. Though dietary potassium can lessen some of the harm of excess sodium, too much supplemental potassium can be harmful if you have kidney problems or if you’re taking medications for congestive heart failure or high blood pressure that cause potassium retention.
Your taste for salt is acquired, according to the folks at the Mayo Clinic, which means that it is reversible. To unlearn this salty savoring, they advice people to decrease the use of salt gradually so taste buds will adjust. Most people find that after a few weeks of cutting salt they no longer miss it. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of added salt daily, and then gradually reduce to no salt add-ons. As you use less salt your preference for it lessens, allowing you to enjoy the taste of food itself.
*The Grocery Manufacturers Association, who represent the world’s leading food, beverage, and consumer products companies, recently released Sodium and Salt: A Guide for Consumers, Policymakers and the Media. According to Robert Brackett, chief science officer for the GMA, the paper was produced to provide consumers, journalists and health professionals and policy makers – including the Institute of Medicine’s committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake – with current and scientifically accurate information and resources on sodium and salt, and to make recommendations to help consumers find ways to meet the daily intake goal of 2,300 mg of sodium in the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Source: NHANES 2003-2004 (Data analysis provided by General Mills
Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition.)