By Diann Douglas
Since it’s National Nutrition Month for the month of March, we will continue to explore simple dietary changes that can make a big difference in your health. This week let’s look at the latest recommendations on sodium. Revised every five years, USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans now recommends Americans consume less than 2,300 mg. of sodium each day. It goes further to ask consumers to work toward an intake of 1,500 mg. For adults over 51 years of age and people with diabetes or hypertension, USDA strongly recommends the intake need to be at the 1,500 mg. level. This means consuming less than one teaspoon of salt each day in all of the food you eat.
Sodium is an essential nutrient needed by the body in relatively small quantities. The health concern is that most Americans consume a high intake of sodium in their diets which over time can lead to higher blood pressure. According to the research review by the Dietary Guidelines committee, on average, the higher a person’s sodium intake the higher the blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure in a normal range reduces risk of heart disease and kidney failure.
In the American diet, sodium is consumed as salt, an ingredient used in curing meat, baking, and enhancing the flavor of food. The salt added in cooking and at the table only account for a small amount of sodium in our diets. Most of the sodium in our diet comes from processed foods.
Americans love to eat out, so be aware restaurant foods are usually very high in sodium. Your food may not taste salty, but don’t let that fool you. Sometimes a restaurant meal can have over 2,000 mg. of sodium. It’s the sauces, fries and condiments that have hidden sodium.
If you are interested in a healthful meal plan to reduce sodium intake, a proven researched based diet is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). DASH emphasizes consuming fresh vegetables, fruit and low-fat milk product, whole-grains and lean meats. When this meal plan is followed it also reduces the intake of saturated fats. In several DASH studies, participants were able to reduce their blood pressure and improve their blood lipids which reduced their risk of heart disease. The point is to choose fresh foods whenever possible and prepare them with ingredients other than sodium.
Learn to read nutrition labels and identify the amount of sodium in the foods you buy and eat. If a label claims to be low in sodium, it should have no more than 140mg. Products claiming to be “very low sodium” must have 35mg or less. When a label claims to be “reduced sodium” it only has to be 25% lower than the original version, so may still be high in sodium. Look at the percent of daily value, if it is less than 5%, the food is low in sodium.
How does all of this information translate into daily food choice? Here is a list of eating tips to reduce your intake of sodium:
Eat less processed foods such as deli meat, salty snacks and crackers, processed cheese, canned soups and meats, pickle, relishes and other condiments.
Learn to cook with herbs and spices which add wonderful flavors to your food.
Cut back on salt used in cooking pasta, rice and noodles. Use half the amount you would normally use. If you are making cooked cereal like oatmeal, leave the salt out.
Cook fresh vegetables instead of canned and use seasoning other than salt.
Buy “low-sodium” versions of canned goods when available.
Make your own salad dressings and omit salt as an ingredient.
Use no-salt – added ketchup or low sodium soy sauce.
When eating out, be selective. A grilled chicken sandwich can have as much as 1000 mgs. of sodium.; whenever possible, order food without sauces and extra cheese.
To learn more about how to reduce sodium intake, call the Extension office for a free copy of “Nutrition for Health and Fitness: Sodium in Your Diet.”
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