Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended new voluntary sodium targets that set limits on how much sodium should be in some foods. Sodium, commonly known as salt, is necessary for the body to function properly, but too much can have adverse effects on your health. Manufacturers add sodium to food for a number of reasons including taste, texture, and to help prevent spoilage, but these needs usually can be met with lower levels. With voluntary targets, the FDA hopes to make it easier for people to choose healthier food options, and to encourage food manufacturers and restaurants to adopt the newer guidelines.
Most sodium is found in processed and prepared foods, not from the salt shaker. Commercially processed foods, including canned, frozen, and instant, add a significant amount of sodium to the typical American diet. These include:
- French fries
- Olives and Pickles
- Potato chips and other salted snack foods
- Deli meats
- Tomato Sauces
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that salt has been hidden in processed food for too long and states that, “A moderate level of sodium in the food supply can greatly reduce risk for heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. In fact, sodium reduction could save more than one million lives and billions of dollars in healthcare costs over the next 10 years.”
How Much Sodium is Too Much?
Current guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day for the average adult, both males and females. In contrast, many Americans consume more than 3,400 mg per day. Too much sodium can raise blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. In fact, the AHA found that one third of American adults has high blood pressure (one half for African-Americans), and that one in 10 children has high blood pressure.
The FDA states that a high level of sodium is any food containing 20% of more of the recommended daily value. The agency supports studies that found if the food industry lowers sodium levels based on the new suggested targets, it would reduce sodium consumption to about 3,000 mg per day within the first two years, and to the recommended 2,300 mg per day after ten years. The focus is on certain categories of processed foods like pizza, sandwiches, deli meats, pasta dishes, snacks, breads and rolls that are known to have high sodium levels. On the other hand, some high-sodium foods, such as dried fish, are not as worrisome because they are not typically eaten in large quantities, or as often.
Ways to Control Your Sodium Intake
Consumers can check food labels to determine how much sodium is included, but some foods, such as deli meats, are not labeled. In addition, Americans eat about one-third of their food outside of their homes, so it is essential for restaurants and food manufacturers to support lower sodium standards in order for the initiative to be a success. Other ways the FDA suggests lowering your daily sodium intake include:
- Substitute flavorful ingredients for salt in cooking, such as garlic, oregano, onion, lemon or lime juice, or other herbs, spices, and seasonings.
- Read the nutrition label to find out how much sodium is in the foods you are purchasing.
- Gradually cut down on the amount of salt you use. Your taste buds will adjust to less salt.
- Do not add salt from the salt shaker at the table, or add much less than before. Taste your food before you salt it; it may not need more salt.
- Opt for fresh foods instead of processed foods like bologna, ham, hot dogs, and sausage. Select fresh or plain frozen vegetables and meats instead of those canned with salted water or broth.
- Look for low sodium, reduced sodium, or no salt added versions of foods you eat every day.
- Cook and eat at home. Adjust your recipes to gradually cut down on the amount of salt you use. If some of the ingredients already contain salt, such as canned soup, canned vegetables, or cheese, you do not need to add more salt.
- Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt.
- When dining out, order a low-salt meal or ask the chef not to add salt to your meal.
- Limit your use of condiments like soy sauce, dill pickles, salad dressings, and packaged sauces.
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables instead of salty snacks
- Consume foods that are rich in potassium. Potassium can help blunt the effects of sodium on blood pressure. Potassium-rich foods include leafy, green vegetables and fruits from vines.
If you need guidance or assistance in developing a healthy meal plan, Denise Dillingham, PA-C, can help. You can call the practice at (540) 344-3020 or book an appointment online below.