Worth One’s Salt

My friend called me the other day from the grocery store to ask me if 900 mg of sodium in a can of soup was too high.  After answering her question and going on to explain a little bit about sodium I realized that most people pay attention to sodium but are still a little confused about the actual details.  So I thought I would share with you what I did with my friend. The bottom line is that the nearly all Americans consume substantially more sodium than needed, and absolutely everyone (healthy or not) can benefit from eating less salt in their diets. In the United States, the maximum daily sodium recommendation is 2,300 mg for healthy individuals (which is only 1 teaspoon of salt) and 1,500 mg for people at risk, (older than 40, high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes) which is nearly 70 percent of the U.S. adult population.  Studies show that on average Americans consume about 3,400 mg to 4,000 mg of sodium per day, which is way above the current recommendations.  Researchers predict that if Americans reduced sodium levels to 1,500 mg per day then some 90,000 deaths could be averted and $18 billion in the cost of treating high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease could be saved annually. Maybe you are wondering why sodium can have such a big impact on your health.   Well, I like to think of water and sodium as best friends.  They tend to stick together and water will follow sodium wherever it goes.  So when you consume too much sodium you will also retain more water.  Hence why consuming high sodium foods (such as canned soups or soy sauce) can often leave you feeling bloated and puffy or even why salty foods make you so thirsty.  These are the short-term effects of consuming too much sodium but in the long-term higher amount of sodium mean higher amounts of water in your body.  Extra fluid creates more work on your heart to pump through the additional fluid and extra pressure on your arteries. The added work load on the heart and pressure on the arteries may begin to damage the cardiovascular system and raise blood pressure.  Having high blood pressure is often dubbed as the silent killer since there may be no symptoms but it stresses your body and puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney problems, and other serious health conditions. The solution, however, does not just lie in putting down the salt shaker.  Nearly 75% of our sodium intake comes from prepared foods and is completely out of our hands.  So besides the obvious answer of consuming more freshly prepared whole foods, there are little steps you can start taking to lower your intake of sodium and improve your overall health.

1.  Compare Among Brands Read all food labels and pay attention to sodium content.  Compare brands of processed foods and opt for the products with the lowest sodium content.  For instance there is often a big difference between sodium content of different brands of BBQ sauce, bread, and even cereal.  Furthermore, this list of top 10 food sources of sodium in the U.S. diet is a good place to start your focus.  The list is based on the combination of each item’s sodium content and the frequency of consumption so be careful when buying these foods and/or eat less of them:

  1. Meat pizza
  2. White bread
  3. Processed cheese
  4. Hot dogs
  5. Spaghetti with sauce
  6. Ham
  7. Ketchup
  8. Cooked rice
  9. White rolls
  10. Flour tortillas

2.  Opt for Lower Sodium Options This one may seem obvious but always try to grab the lower sodium option.  Luckily now it is not hard to find a reduced sodium soup or lower sodium condiments. 3.  Rinse and Drain Rinse and drain all your canned foods to significantly cut down on the sodium levels.  In the case of canned beans, the sodium content is lowered by 41% with this little trick. Finally going back to my friends question about soup.  900 mg is way too much sodium to be in a can of soup.  After talking on the phone she ended up grabbing a reduced sodium soup with a much lower sodium content.  I hope this helps you to do the same. Love, Renee

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