Lose the Salt

by Mary Catherine Cochran


Prevent a little heartache this Valentine’s Day by reducing your sodium intake.

According to a report released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9 out of 10 Americans eat too much salt.  On average, we consume about 3,300 mg of sodium a day. U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg a day -and only 1,500 mg for the 60 percent of us who are over 51 years of age or African American or have health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.  Too much sodium increases our risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

But don’t blame the salt shaker.  Sixty-five percent of our salt consumption comes from food sold in stores and another 25 percent comes from food sold in restaurants. In the recent Winter Edition of Johns Hopkins Health Magazine, Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, M.D., chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins, says, “The real problem is that most of the food we buy already has a lot of salt in it. So while you do want to avoid adding a lot more at the table, the real goal is to find foods at the store that are low in salt to begin with.”

The CDC lists 10 sneaky sources of sodium that make up 40 percent of our consumption:

    • Bread and Rolls
    • Deli lunch meats
    • Pizza
    • Poultry
    • Soups
    • Cheeseburgers and other sandwiches
    • Cheese
    • Pasta mixed dishes
    • Meat mixed dishes
    • Snack foods such as pretzels, potato chips and popcorn

Bread is at the top of list of sneaky sources of sodium. Two slices of white bread for your turkey sandwich can fulfill one-third of your daily allotment of sodium and we haven’t begun to count the sodium in the turkey! Michael Silverman, M.D., Chairman, Department of Medicine at Howard County General Hospital, is a staunch opponent of white bread. “In my opinion, white bread has been a significant contributor to the destruction of the American diet.” Silverman says, “The high salt content in combination with unhealthy bleached white flour is deadly if eaten regularly.”

What else can we do since our lost shaker of salt didn’t make much difference? How do we reduce our sodium intake?

Read the labels-  According to Silverman, “The consumer needs to become an expert at reading nutrition labels”. Some seemingly healthy foods, like cottage cheese or lean turkey breast lunch meat can contain surprising amounts of salt.

Compare brands-  Different brands of the same food have different levels of sodium. According to the CDC, one slice of white bread can have anywhere between 80- 230 mg of sodium and one serving of chicken noodle soup can vary by as much as 840 mg!

Eat Fresh- Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit and less prepackaged food. “Foods aren’t naturally salty, the salt is put in during processing at food plants, which means less-processed foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables are better choices than their frozen or canned cousins that often include high-sodium sauces,” says Tomaselli.

The CDC says that by curbing our sodium intake by just 10 percent, we could prevent an estimated 28,000 deaths each year. Silverman takes a more forceful approach, “All foods high in sodium content should be boycotted.”

Spend a few minutes this evening reading the labels on the food that you already have in your kitchen or, better yet,  join a Johns Hopkins dietitian for a grocery store tour. I think you’ll be surprised by what you are eating and motivated to make a change.





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