Feb. 17, 2011
Lowering your sodium intakeBy Dianne Lamb
Poor diet and physical inactivity are the most important factors contributing to an epidemic of overweight and obese men, women and children in the United States, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released on Jan. 31. While that’s not news to most of us, many people don’t follow the recommendations outlined in the guide, which is updated every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.
These guidelines for good eating pertain to every American two and older, including anyone at increased risk of chronic disease. In general, we all need to eat less by paying attention to portion sizes. And we need to move more. The seventh edition of the Dietary Guidelines also recommends switching to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk and drinking water instead of sugary drinks. Other recommendations include filling half your plate with vegetables and fruits and reading the Nutrition Facts labels on products to reduce the sodium in your diet.
I would like to discuss the sodium issue in greater detail. When the last Dietary Guidelines (2005) were released, the recommendation for sodium was for healthy Americans to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. That recommendation was equivalent to about one teaspoon of table salt per day from all food sources, including beverages.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend daily sodium intake to be less than 2,300 mg. The recommended intake is 1,500 mg. per day for people 51 and older, African-Americans and anyone, regardless of age, with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Just think about it. Roughly half the U.S. population should be at the 1,500 mg. level for sodium.
Why all the buzz?
Approximately 74.5 million Americans, or 34 percent of the adult population, have hypertension, which is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease. Such dietary factors as excess sodium intake, insufficient potassium intake, being overweight or obese, and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to increased blood pressure. In addition, 36 percent of American adults are pre-hypertensive, meaning their blood pressure is higher than normal but not yet in the hypertension range.
Sodium is an essential nutrient, but it is needed in relatively small quantities. The sodium that most Americans consume is primarily in the form of sodium chloride that is added to processed foods. Sodium is used as an ingredient in many foods and serves a number of functions including for curing meats, as a flavor enhancer, moisture retainer and in baking. Not only are foods high in sodium suspect, but so are foods that contain smaller amounts of sodium per serving, but are eaten in greater quantities throughout the day, such as bread.
The 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines offer these suggestions to reduce consumption of sodium:
• Read the Nutrition Facts label for information on sodium content of foods, and purchase foods that are low in sodium.
• Consume more fresh foods and fewer processed foods that are high in sodium.
• Prepare more foods at home where you have control over the amount of sodium that is added to your food.
• Use seasonings containing little or no salt when cooking and eating.
• When dining out, ask if your food can be prepared with less sodium.
On average, the natural sodium content of food accounts for only 10 percent of total sodium intake in a day. The salt that is used at the table and in cooking at home accounts for another 5 to 10 percent of daily sodium intake. Between 75 to 85 percent of daily sodium intake comes from salt that is added to food by manufacturers.
Studies have shown that caloric intake and sodium intake are associated with consuming more foods and beverages. So by reducing calories and the amount of food eaten, you will probably reduce your sodium intake.
To help lower your intake, prepare foods at home using herbs, spices, vinegars, citrus juices or zest from citrus fruits to flavor foods instead of salt. Cut back on salt a little at a time. After awhile, you won’t miss it as your taste buds get acquainted with new flavors from herbs, spices and other potent flavoring agents.
If you have high blood pressure, you can help lower it by following the DASH eating plan. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. DASH is rich in magnesium, potassium, calcium, protein and fiber. This diet plan is low in cholesterol and saturated and total fat and limits consumption of meat, sweets and beverages containing sugar. For more information on the DASH diet visit the National Heart Blood and Lung Institute’s website at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/dash/dash_follow.html.
To read the entire report or the executive summary for the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, go to www.dietaryguidelines.gov .
Dianne Lamb is the University of Vermont’s Extension Nutrition and Food specialist.