Thursday, September 30, 2010

It’s Not a Salty Issue

It’s nothing to laugh at: Americans are eating far too much salt. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), Americans on average consume 3,436 mg sodium daily. What’s the recommended intake? Well, that depends on who you are and who you ask. The US Department of Agriculture would like to see healthy people limit their daily sodium intake to 2300 mg, about a teaspoon of salt. However, it recommends that people who have high blood pressure, all middle-aged and older people, and all black adults (in total about 70% of the population) consume no more than 1500 mg each day. If you were to ask the American Heart Association experts, they want to see everyone at that lower limit to reduce hypertension and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

This is not as easy as it sounds, even for a nutrition conscious person such as me. I am very sodium aware and after years of working to lower my intake, I can really taste the salt in foods. I am no longer able to enjoy regular cottage cheese (which has more sodium per serving than potato chips, by the way). Safeway sells a salt free version that I’ve come to love. Most soups, canned and restaurant made, are too salty for me, and I frequently recommend no salt added canned peas and corn because they’re convenient and really do taste good without the salt! So it’s not about adjusting to less salt. Your tastes will adjust, I promise you.

It’s getting the sodium out of our food that is the problem. Consider that on average the natural salt content of food accounts for only about 10 percent of total intake, while salt added at the table or while cooking provides another 5 to 10 percent of total intake. That means that the remaining 75 percent is derived from salt added by manufacturers.* In addition, foods served by restaurants are often high in sodium. Take for example an order of Buffalo Chicken Fajitas from Chili’s. When eaten with the accompanying tortillas and condiments, the sodium content is almost 7000 mg – close to five times the AHA’s recommended daily limit (source: UC Berkeley Wellness Letter August 2009).

Government agencies and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are encouraging food manufacturers to voluntarily begin to lower the sodium content of processed foods. Just 10 % a year for five years would make a significant difference that consumers are unlikely to notice. I’ll keep you informed as things progress.


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