- - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that more than 50 percent of packaged products included in their study exceeded the FDA healthy food label guidelines for sodium. The results were published in the Journal Preventing Chronic Disease. The findings help shed a light on why greater than 90 percent of Americans consume more sodium than recommended: We are filling our shopping carts with salty items.

The researchers looked at 4,000 packaged food products and found that more than half of them contained more than the recommended allowance of sodium-per-serving necessary to be considered a “healthy” food. The biggest culprits were frozen pizza, and meat and pasta dishes. Let’s take a closer look at the who, what, where, when, why, and how of salt.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know: About Salt

What is salt? It is comprised of the minerals sodium and chloride. And while they are necessary for the proper function of each and every one of our cells, too much can cause problems. Excessive consumption has been shown to increase our risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and kidney problems. In fact, it is estimated that 1 out of every 10 deaths in the U.S. is linked to excessive salt consumption.

What are the current recommendations for salt intake? Healthy Americans should not consume more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (the equivalent of a teaspoon of salt). And those who are considered at-risk — 51 years of age and older, African-American, or have hypertension, diabetes, or kidney disease — should not consume more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.

If it is so deadly, why are we literally addicted to it? The answer is simple: Salt is inexpensive, tasty and universally available. And it is a preservative that allows us to keep food items on the shelf longer. Salt absorbs water, and as a result helps dry out food making the food product inhospitable to bacteria, fungus and other germs.

What are some ways to shake away that salt habit?

Opt for fresh. Whenever possible, choose the fresh option over canned or processed types. Remember that salt is oftentimes used to preserve food products. When buying frozen or canned foods, look for items that do not have salt added.

Spice it up! While we may not be able to throw away the salt shaker, we may be able to put it on the back shelf by flavoring our food with spices and herbs, low-salt, or salt-free seasonings. Consider the following alternatives: garlic powder or fresh roasted garlic, fresh ground black pepper, soy sauce (preferably reduced sodium), onion powder, fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice, or mustard. And don’t forget to consider sweetening things up; consider orange juice, dried cranberries, or apples to provide a “different” taste and zing. Most foods naturally contain salt. This allows us to stop adding salt to salt.

Be a smart consumer. Reading nutrition labels can help us make more informed choices. Labels can be tricky. “Low sodium” means it contains less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving and “reduced sodium” means it contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular product. And remember, most foods, even natural ones, contain sodium. Thus, the terms “unsalted” or “no salt added” should be taken literally, but not to mean it does not contain sodium.

Don’t be bamboozled. Sugary foods can mask the taste of salt, despite having a high sodium content. To avoid this, check the label. And compare various brands of the same food item until we find the one that has the lowest sodium content, since this will vary from brand to brand.

The anti-salt. Potassium is a nutrient that helps offset sodium’s tendency to increase blood pressure. Foods that are rich in potassium include bananas, beans, spinach, potatoes and yogurt.

Made to order. When dining out, we can request that the dish be served without salt. And when eating fast food, we need to be aware that all too often their sodium content is higher than we might ever suspect. Request their menu breakdown and know the sodium facts for the item we are considering.

Because having the desire for salty foods is an acquired taste, it can be changed. So let’s launch a counterinsurgency against the assault by salt! It takes approximately 6-8 weeks to recalibrate our preference for less salt. But once we get over that hump, we will find ourselves having difficulty eating salty foods. This advice is “worth its salt.” Whether we sit “above the salt” or “below the salt” we cannot deny the importance of the mineral, albeit in small amounts.

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