Cut Sodium To Cut Health Risks

By Kari Hartel, RD, LD

Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

It is no secret that Americans get way too much sodium in their diets. The recommendation for the maximum daily sodium intake is 2,300 mg (the amount in about one teaspoon of salt). People with diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, adults over 51 years of age and African Americans should limit sodium to 1,500 mg/day. Consuming too much sodium has been strongly linked to the development of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

It is estimated that if everyone in the United States cut their daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg from what the current consumption level is, blood pressure levels would drop 25.6%, resulting in an estimated $26.2 million dollar reduction in health-care costs. Other research has suggested that reaching this lower-sodium intake goal would decrease deaths from cardiovascular disease by 500,000 to almost 1.2 million people over the next decade.

Americans consume much more than the recommended maximum intake of 2,300 mg per day – we’re currently averaging 3,400 mg sodium per day. Why are our diets so salty? Don’t go blaming that salt shaker on your kitchen table – over 75% of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods or is consumed in restaurants or fast food joints. Only 12% of the sodium we ingest occurs naturally in foods (such as celery, beets and milk) and the rest is added when we cook foods or add it at the table.

Processed foods that are notoriously high in sodium include luncheon meats, cured meats, canned soups, frozen meals and snacks, salted snacks (such as potato chips, crackers, pretzels and popcorn), breads and rolls, pizza, cheese, soy sauces, other bottled sauces and salad dressings.

There are easy ways to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. Here are some simple, straight-forward tips:

  • Cut back on processed foods. The foods listed above, as well as many other processed foods, contribute more sodium to our diets than any other source.
  • Dine out less often. Restaurant and fast-food meals contain boatloads of sodium. When you prepare food at home, you can control the amount of sodium.
  • Choose whole foods, especially produce. Fruits and vegetables contain little to no sodium and provide a plethora of beneficial nutrients. Plus, they’re delicious! Frozen and canned vegetables can be included in healthy, lower-sodium diet as long as you choose canned veggies marked “no salt added” and opt for plain, un-sauced frozen vegetables.
  • Watch those condiments. Soy sauce, barbeque sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard and other bottled sauces contain a great deal of sodium. Use them sparingly or make your own homemade sauces from scratch, using lower sodium ingredients.
  • Flavor your foods with herbs and spices. Herbs and spices add a great deal of flavor to food without adding any sodium. Experiment with new and exciting herbs and spices and try making your own seasoning blends from scratch.

Summer is a critical time for a child’s well-being. During the summer months, many children are at a higher risk of both obesity and hunger. Of all the children who receive meals at school, only eight percent participate in summer meals programs. Operation Food Search is connecting children with free nutritious summer meals. Please help make sure that children in need are well-fed in a safe environment. Please make a donation today: www.OperationFoodSearch.org.