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Resolve to Reduce Salt and Sodium

by Drusilla Banks

Why not make a “New Year’s Resolution” that will work to enrich your health for the rest of your life? Setting reachable goals is the key to success. Most people know that an important key to healthy eating is choosing foods lower in salt and sodium, which are linked to hypertension (or high blood pressure). Why not work to reduce the amount of salt and sodium you eat? It is a medicine-free way to improve your health.

According to a Duke University Medical Center Study, most Americans consume way too much sodium; on average 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams (mg) per day. The current recommendation is to consume less than 2,400mg of sodium a day. That equals the sodium in about one teaspoon of table salt. However, about 85 percent of the sodium and salt Americans eat is already in the foods we buy. These are processed foods from the grocery store, fast-food chains, restaurant foods and take-home chilled and prepared foods.

DASH for Health Program For example, a one-cup bowl of Broccoli Cheddar soup form Panera contains 1,040mg sodium and a plain bagel contains 460mg sodium. A Tendergrilled Chicken sandwich from Burger King contains 1,040mg sodium and an unsalted medium order of fries contains 530mg sodium. KFC’s Extra Crispy chicken breast contains 1,010mg sodium and one biscuit contain 530mg. This information is available to the public by law, so the nutrition facts for all your favorite fast food restaurants can be found online or ask for a brochure.

For people who already have high blood pressure, your doctor will advise eating even less salt and sodium. Recent research has shown that people consuming diets of 1,500mg of sodium had even better blood pressure lowering benefits.

Salt is important
It is well documented that salt has played an important role in modern civilization. In ancient Rome, salt was used as currency to pay the soldiers. Yes, Roman soldiers were paid in salt, which is where our word for salary comes from. Salzburg, Austria, and Saltville, VA, were both named after nearby salt mines.

What is the difference between salt and sodium? Sodium is a natural mineral found in all living cells. All fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, nuts and grains contain a small amount on naturally occurring sodium. It is essential for life in controlling the balance of water. Salt, on the other hand, is a crystalline formed from sodium and chloride. Salt is the food we eat that contains more sodium than any other food. It is roughly 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride.

Aside from salt, sodium comes from many other sources. If you check the ingredient list on highly processed foods you will find sodium in different forms; sodium benzoate, which is a preservative in processed foods to extend shelf life; sodium nitrate is in processed meats like bacon, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) is used as a flavor enhancer. The leavening agents baking powder and baking soda contain sodium. Beverages contain sodium. It is in sports drinks, diet soda, and even sparkling mineral water. Some medications contain sodium, too. A little here and a little there—see how quickly it adds up?

And, the number of Americans with hypertension is steadily increasing. More than 65 million Americans have hypertension. Other industrialized nations are seeing an increase as well. High blood pressure is the greatest risk factor for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.

An example of a healthy low sodium diet is the DASH eating plan. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It was developed by scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health, and researchers at Duke University Medical Center. By adopting the DASH diet plan you can help lower and/or maintain healthy blood pressure. This eating plan has been proven to reduce blood pressure in as little as two weeks.

Tips for reducing sodium
Buy fresh vegetables or plain frozen without added sauces and seasonings. Season your own vegetables using herbs, spices, lemon or lime juice. Or buy canned vegetables and canned tomatoes and tomato products like tomato sauce and tomato paste “with no salt added.”

  • Use fresh poultry, fish and lean meat rather than prepared deli meats, lunch meats, canned and cured meats as often as possible.
  • Use herbs and spices or salt-free herb blends for seasoning in cooking and at the table.
  • Cook hot cereals, rice and pasta without adding salt. Reduce the use of instant or flavored rice, pasta and other mixes.
  • When choosing convenience foods, look for lower sodium selections. Check the Nutrition Facts label and compare different brands of soup, frozen dinners and pizza. As a general guideline, look for foods with 140mg sodium per serving or less.
  • Rinse canned foods to lower sodium; 70 percent in canned tuna and 41 percent in canned vegetables.
  • When available, select low- or reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added versions of your favorite foods. Look for lightly salted or unsalted nuts.
  • Choose ready-to-eat breakfast cereals that are lower in sodium; such as shredded wheat and frosted mini- ·wheat cereals and always compare brands.
Remember, eating at home and preparing your own foods will go a long way in the control of food ingredients and preparation methods. The key is to reduce the salt and sodium in your meals gradually, replacing it with other seasonings. Soon, you will notice when food is over salted. Although this change in diet is just one change for the better in keeping hypertension away, it is an important one that can have significant impact, whether your blood pressure is normal, elevated, or controlled with medication.

For more information on the DASH Eating Plan, visit their Web site at for a free printable 64- page booklet or contact a Health Information Specialist at 301-592- 8573. Join the free online interactive Web site at, get your free eating profile, your own customized meal plan, hundreds of recipes, and track your progress.

Have a healthy and happy new year!

Resources: Duke University Medical Center Study on reducing sodium in canned foods, tuna and vegetables; National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and National Institute of Health Web site Dash Eating Plan: healthier eating plan with Dash

Prepared by Drusilla Banks, Extension Specialist Food Science & Nutrition Programming; Univ. of IL Extension at Wright College.

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