Many people are concerned about the amount of sodium they eat in order to reduce their risk and prevent disease.
Many others seem unconcerned with salt and don’t enjoy their food without a shake (or more) of salt.
Where do you stand?
No matter which approach you take, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently set its sights on encouraging food manufacturers to begin voluntarily reducing the amount of sodium in the foods they make and sell to us.
What is Salt?
Salt is a crystalline compound that is made up of sodium combined with chloride. Salt is used in our food as both a preservative and flavor enhancer.
However, sodium is the mineral we need to manage to prevent negative health consequences.
Sodium can impact our health by increasing our risk of cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure. It is true that some salt is essential to our health.
It is estimated that 70% of us are at risk for excessive sodium intake that leads to heart disease and stroke.
Most people don’t realize how much sodium really is in the food they eat because much of the time, the highest sodium containing foods don’t taste salty.
Where is Sodium Hiding in Our Food?
Many people think the salt shaker is the place where they get the majority of the salt in their diet. They believe if they don’t use the salt shaker, they will have a diet low in sodium.
Avoiding the salt shaker alone won’t reduce the risk of high blood pressure and other chronic diseases linked to high sodium intakes because there can be an unhealthy amount of sodium in the other foods we eat.
For people with excessive salt intake, eliminating the salt shaker does help, but that isn’t the only consideration to bring your consumption to a level that is good for your health.
We should be aware that these foods contribute more than 75% of our sodium:
- Processed cheese
- Breakfast cereals, flakes
- Dry seasoning and sauce mixes
- Frozen meals
- Tortillas and wraps
- Bread and rolls
- Processed meats (cold cuts, cured meat)
Commercially prepared food contains sodium not only in the form of salt but also baking soda, sodium nitrate, sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), or brine solutions injected into poultry.
Other sources of sodium in our food come from dining out because chefs prepare often add more sodium than we might want in order to prepare a tasty meal.
Unfortunately, you can’t remove the sodium from foods you buy when they contain higher sodium content than desired.
How Much Salt is Too Much?
According to research from the 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans, only 11% of us are keeping our intake of sodium at recommended levels.
The average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium each day (naturally some are eating much more or less). It is the people eating much more who are at the greatest risk.
The goal is in some question but most experts advise us to consume less than or equal to 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
It is important to understand that 1 tablespoon of salt contains 6,976 mg of sodium; 1 teaspoon contains 2,325 mg sodium (a full day’s recommendation) and a shake is about ¼ teaspoon, or 575 mg of sodium.
The FDA hopes that voluntary sodium reduction will encourage manufacturers to begin slowly reducing the sodium content of their products to help us all meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines.
They do not intend to tell manufacturers how to do that or to avoid using sodium altogether but to reduce the amount of sodium per serving overall. They also want the nutritional quality of the food to be affected.
They believe that lowering sodium according to their guidelines by setting mean sodium concentrations and upper level sodium concentrations will result in such a gradual decrease that most consumers will not recognize altered taste.
The FDA is currently taking comments about this proposal if you want to read more or give your input. Submit electronic comments to Regulations.gov.
Tips for Breaking the Salt Habit
It is important that we use fresher, whole foods that will be lower in sodium due to reduced processing.
When we eat out we can ask for the chef to eliminate added salt and choose an entrée that is free from added sources of sodium such as soups, sauces and gravies.
When you shop for food, be sure to read the nutrition facts panel and look at the amount of sodium per serving. A single serving should not exceed 350 mg of sodium (less than 20% DV) and a full meal should be about 650-800 mg of sodium.
Foods labeled sodium free must contain 5 mg of sodium or less by regulation. If the label says low sodium it must be 140 mg of sodium per serving.
Cooking at home preparing food that is fresher and without ingredients that increase the level of sodium can be done by renovating your current recipes.
My cookbook, Recipe RenovationTM For The Health of It, helps you lower the sodium and other nutrients of concern in your family recipes as well as some of my own family favorites.
Cutting the salt habit is achievable and important for your health with small steps. Your taste buds will thank you!