Thursday, August 19, 2010

So Long to Salt

I wrote about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines last month and I thought it would be a good idea to dive a little deeper into one new guideline: "the goal [for sodium] should be 1,500 mg per day."  Sounds like a simple goal but given that our country loves salt, this is a very difficult thing to accomplish.

Salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride.  The most concerning element is the sodium.  We need sodium in our diet but the problem is we get way too much.   Diets high in sodium are associated with increased risks for high blood pressure which then lead to chronic kidney disease, stroke, heart disease and congestive heart failure.  The Mayo Clinic has a great article for more background. 

Almost all of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods.  There are some foods that naturally contain sodium, but for the most part, anytime we shop for food in the market or go out to eat we are eating sodium.  In an article from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) about how to reduce sodium, the physician they interviewed said, 
"...75 to 80 percent of the sodium we consume is added to food before we open a package or walk into a restaurant. So unless you make everything—including breads, crackers, cereals, soup, pizza, spaghetti sauce, salad dressing—from scratch, you can’t easily avoid the salt."
The reality is that we are hardly cooking anything from scratch.  What most people do at home is not generally cooking, we're heating.  We need to learn to cook again.  I wrote about cooking at home earlier but another great resource is from this blog Inspired RD.  She has great recipes that will truly inspire you.

Until we learn to cook we need to do two things:
  1. We need to read the food labels when we shop.  When you pick up a food label, start by looking at the serving size of a product.  Next move down to see how many milligrams (mg) of sodium a product has.  Try to find foods that have 300 mg of sodium or less per serving.  
  2. We need the government's help to pressure the food industry to use less salt.  Marion Nestle wrote a great piece on this very topic you should read.  In addition to this, read the Institute of Medicine's report on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. One of the key recommendations is to have the FDA change and regulate how much sodium can be safely added to foods.
By choosing lower sodium foods and food companies reducing the amount of salt in processed foods, we can start to make a difference.  To quote the movie Food Inc. "You vote with your fork three times a day."  Make each vote count and you'll be surprised about how well you can do if you just make a little effort.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for linking to my site. I am so much more aware of sodium after experiencing pregnancy induced hypertension. My eyes were truly opened to just how much sodium is in packaged and restaurant foods. My goal on my blog is to inspire people to cook healthy meals that are easy and delicious so that they are not dependent on processed food.