Sodium is a major culprit in the growing epidemic of high blood pressure in our country, with 30 percent of adults believed to have borderline or prehypertension and more than two-thirds of Americans over the age of 65 diagnosed with high blood pressure. This in turn contributes to heart disease and strokes, the number one and number three killers in our society.
We are in trouble with salt, and consumers are hearing more and more warnings about their sodium intake. The American Heart Association recommends that for optimal health, Americans should aim for no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day – drastically lower than our actual average consumption of approximately 3,400 mg.
Many restaurant meals quickly deliver more than a full day’s sodium in a single sitting—a popular fast-food grilled hamburger sandwich with large fries contains a massive 2,350 mg. And in the supermarket, sodium abounds in canned soup, cold cuts, processed cheese, many vegetable juices, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, chips, pretzels, popcorn, pickles and relish. It will take major changes in both our food supply and our eating habits to be successful in lowering our sodium intake.
It will take a new attitude by the food industry to trim the sodium in products, and it will take a shift in our collective taste standards. We humans have an innate need for salt, but modern man now takes in far more than necessary. The taste for salt is an acquired, cultural behavior and can be modified. Even small improvements make a big difference, all the while unmasking the real flavors of food. Surely we can cut down on salt, both hidden and obvious, without abandoning the joys of good food.
You can retrain your taste buds to enjoy food with less salt.
- Keep the salt shaker off the table—and while cooking, season your foods with a variety of low-sodium herbs and spices. It’s easy to cook with less salt when you use the right ingredients.
- Read food labels and steer away from high-sodium processed foods, such as cured meats (ham, salami, hot dogs, bacon, etc.), pickled and fermented foods (dill pickles, soy sauce, sauerkraut), salty snacks (potato chips, pretzels, cheese puffs) and most canned soups.
Put the pressure on food suppliers. Americans get more than 75 percent of their sodium from processed and restaurant foods. Buy low-sodium foods and request that no salt be added in the kitchen at your favorite restaurants.
Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, RD, FAHA
Bickford Professor of Nutrition and Professor of Medicine, University of Vermont
Chair, Nutrition Committee, American Heart Association
EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog was also featured in EatingWell. To join the 3-Week Sodium Swap Challenge, please go to http://on.fb.me/Z2Nwdd.
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