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Sodium: More Than Just Salt

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SaltWhen people hear the word sodium, they may not think much of it unless they have high blood pressure. Given the fact that 90 percent of adults eventually are affected by high blood pressure and the complications that go with it, we need to know more about sodium and how to reduce it in our day.


What is Sodium?


Sodium is a mineral and the main source of sodium in our diets is salt, which is made up of 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. Sodium often comes to mind when we think of processed foods, but unprocessed foods contain natural sodium as well.


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Excess salt, or sodium, in our diets is a major cause of high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke more than high cholesterol, obesity, or even smoking.


Which Foods are High in Sodium?


Processed foods, such as frozen meals, boxed dinners, condiments, processed meats, and canned foods are almost always high in sodium. Many of these products can have more than 1000 milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving; however, seemingly "healthy" foods can be just as high in sodium.


Items like breads, cheeses, milk products, salad dressings, meats, and cereals will often have sodium added to them, making the goal of reducing sodium even more difficult. Couple that with eating meals out, where the sodium level can reach 3000 mg or more per meal, and it's easy to see how 90 percent of people are eventually affected by high blood pressure.




How much sodium is too much?


The recommendation is that sodium should be limited to 1500 mg per day. This applies to all adults age 51 and older, all African-Americans, and all people who have high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease and/or diabetes.


This means that half of the United States population has a sodium guideline of 1500 mg per day or less. For the other half of the population, sodium recommendations include an intake of less than 2300 mg per day, about 1/3 less than the current average intake.

Fortunately, many food manufacturers are getting on board to help people with reducing sodium consumption. Walmart recently announced it will cut sodium by 25 percent in its private label products by 2015. General Mills plans to lower sodium by 20 percent in almost half its food products in the next four years. Heinz, Kraft, and Starbucks are among other companies also pledging to reduce sodium in some products by at least 20 percent as well. While these steps will be helpful in reducing daily sodium intakes, we will also need to be aware of other ways we can try and reach the goal of 1500 mg or 2300 mg or less per day.


Steps to Lower Sodium Intake

  1. Do not use table salt. 1 teaspoon of salt has 2400 mg of sodium.
  2. Include vegetables and fruits on ½ your plate. Go for color on your plate!
  3. Read labels carefully. Foods that have minimal natural sodium can have large amounts added. For instance, some brands of chicken will have 550 mg of sodium per 4 ounce serving.
  4. Eat out less and ask for foods to be prepared without salt when you do eat out at restaurants.
  5. Buy low sodium canned and frozen products such as low sodium tomatoes, soups, tuna fish and beans.
  6. Make more items at home. Buy dried beans and cook them on the stove. Make your own salad dressings with oil, vinegar and herbs. Make a large batch of homemade soup and freeze it in individual containers.

How to Season Food Without Salt

  1. Use herbs such as basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary and spices such as curry, turmeric, ginger, and garlic on meats, grains and vegetables.
  2. Use fresh lemon or lime juice.
  3. Use black pepper on foods instead of salt.
  4. Try vinegars on vegetables and salads.
  5. Use salt-free seasoning mixes.

By following the recommendations above you can reduce your sodium intake, control or prevent high blood pressure and help to keep your heart healthy.