The Sodium Factor
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Sodium is an essential mineral for life and naturally occurs in most foods. Not to be confused with salt, we often find the additive in foods or we sprinkle on our meals, which actually contains 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. Sodium’s major functions are to regulate blood pressure and fluid volume; it also helps transmit nerve impulses and influences muscle contraction and relaxation. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for America says that people with hypertension, kidney disease, diabetes, middle-aged and older adults, and African Americans should limit their intake to 1,500 mg a day. For all others, the recommended dose is less than 2,300 mg (with a minimum of 500 mg a day).
Although sodium is essential, it can be very dangerous in large doses on a daily basis. Too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, edema (fluid retention), loss of calcium, and even heart failure. It can also contribute to dangerous levels of fluid retention in people with congestive heart failure, liver and kidney disease.
LESS IS MORE
You don’t need to cut out your favorite foods all together in order to reduce your sodium intake. Just be a smart shopper by limiting processed foods, especially canned and frozen items – the biggest culprits of excess sodium. One cup of canned soup can contain 1,600 mg of sodium; and often, instant food mixes such as pasta, potatoes and cornbread aren’t far behind. Look for products that have less than 200 mg per serving – check labels carefully to determine the serving size and how many you will actually eat. If you do buy processed foods, purchase those labeled “low” or “reduced” sodium.
The dietitians at the Diabetes and Nutrition Education Program at the Marshall Medical Center warn consumers that there are other ingredients in packaged foods that include salt or sodium-containing compounds. So look for and limit ingredients such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, and sodium nitrate or nitrite.
In low amounts, sodium also occurs in vegetables, fruits and grains. The Marshall Medical Center’s dietitians caution that some foods are naturally higher in sodium than others including dairy products like milk and cheese, as well as meats and shellfish. For example, one cup of low-fat milk has about 107 mg of sodium. Other high-sodium foods include pickles, olives, lunch meats, bacon, soy sauce, condiments, cereals, crackers, chips, salted nuts and baked goods.
One of the biggest offenders to be weary of is your average table salt. Just one teaspoon has 2,400 mg of sodium, more than the recommended daily intake! Instead, Margaret Scheller, a registered dietician with Sutter Health says, “Eat whole foods and cook from scratch with herbs and spices to flavor food.”
According to experts, your taste buds have the ability to “re-learn” how you enjoy your foods and if you reduce salt gradually, your taste will adjust. Even in as little as a few weeks, you may start to find some of your old favorites are now too salty.
KNOW YOUR SODIUM LABELS
- Sodium or salt free = 5mg or less of sodium per serving
- Low sodium = 35 mg or less of sodium per serving
- Reduced sodium = at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version
- Light in sodium = at least 50 percent less sodium than the regular version
- No added salt = no salt was added during processing
–Courtesy of Margaret Scheller, Sutter Health