Sodium 101 Update

May 07, 2012

Processed foods and restaurant meals contribute to upwards of 75 percent of our total daily sodium intake

It is a common misconception that the majority of our salt intake is due to a heavy handed sprinkling of salt from the table salt shaker. In fact, processed foods and restaurant meals contribute to upwards of 75 percent of our total daily sodium intake.

Sodium, a mineral element obtained from foods, is critical for proper functioning of the body. It is necessary for controlling fluid levels, is important in proper nerve conduction, allows certain nutrients into and out of cells, and assists in maintaining optimal blood pressure. Approximately 40 percent of the body’s sodium content is found in bone, some within organs and cells and the remaining 55 percent can be found circulating in the blood plasma and extracellular fluid. The intestines absorb dietary sodium, while the kidneys excrete sodium into the urine. This balance is continually regulated by the kidneys and intestines.

Studies have linked sodium intake with hypertension (high blood pressure), one of the leading risk factors for heart disease, the number-one killer in the U.S. Approximately 65 million American adults have high blood pressure, including more than half of those aged 60 and above. In addition, 45 million people have what is considered "pre-hypertension", a category that falls between normal and clearly high blood pressure levels.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that most adults consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium (one teaspoon of salt) per day—and for African Americans, middle-aged and older adults, and those with hypertension, the AHA recommends a daily sodium intake of less than 1,500 mg.

Dairy, meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables naturally contain sodium. For example one cup of 1 percent low-fat milk contains 107 mg of sodium. But natural sources only contribute to about 5 percent of the average person’s total daily intake.

The major sodium offenders are processed foods — canned vegetables, soups, deli or lunch meats, processed cheese, savory snacks and frozen foods. Many pre-packaged meals can contain upwards of 1,000 mg of sodium per serving!

Careful shoppers hoping to cut down on their sodium intake should look closely at labels: the FDA requires that, in order to include the claim that it is "healthy," a food item must not exceed 480 mg sodium per serving. For a ready-made meal to carry that label, it cannot exceed 600 mg of sodium per serving.

Consumer concerns have been heard! Several major food manufacturers are currently working on reducing the sodium content of their foods. ConAgra Foods is working to reduce the use of salt by 20 percent across its entire portfolio of food products by 2015. This includes Orville Redinbacher’s Smart Pop popcorn, Marie Callender’s, Kids Cuisine, Chef Boyardee, Healthy Choice and more. Other industry behemoths including Campbell Soup and Kraft Foods, are responding to the growing desire on the part of consumers to cut the amount of sodium in their diet. Look for low sodium alternatives - and of course don’t forget to read labels.

To lower your salt intake at home, try experimenting with spices such as rosemary, thyme, parsley, coriander, dill, basil, garlic, onion, and ginger. Sometimes adding salt to a dish is simply a lazy impulse — it's easy to forget that adding spices can transform the taste of formerly bland food and recipes.

To add an extra punch to chicken or fish, squeeze a little lemon juice and a splash of vinegar on top. You'll never know it's salt-free. Supermarketguru also recommends sprinkling lightly toasted sesame seeds or flax seeds on top of finished plates can add an interesting flavor — and the unique crunch adds an extra dimension to the texture.

Go ahead and try low sodium foods at the market; and read labels for those products not labeled low sodium, you may be surprised about how little or how much sodium these foods contain. thinks that when you start cutting down on your sodium intake; soon, you won't miss it at all. You'll be on the path to a better diet and, along the way you'll discover new spices and food flavors that are healthier and more enjoyable.

Always speak with your physician before making any dietary changes, as decreasing sodium/ a low sodium diet is not appropriate for everyone. As mentioned above, sodium is a critical electrolyte that helps with nerve and muscle function as well as maintaining blood pressure.