Cutting Back on Sodium – Making the Gradebrown.4643 | May 23, 2012
As I began the new year, I made a resolution that is similar to a lot of Americans: eat healthier and get in shape. My determination has been reinforced by the fact that beach season is quickly approaching. As I began brainstorming ways to make my goal a reality, the idea of food journal seemed like an easy way to keep track of calories. I found a website online that tracks the nutritional value of every meal, creates a chart based on the breakdown of my meals, and gives me a grade as to my meals for the day.
My strategy is to eat three small meals a day: at breakfast, lunch, and dinner and to have a snack in between. I have put myself on a steady diet of calcium-rich milk products such as low fat yogurt and cottage cheese, fruits and vegetables like pineapple and broccoli, whole grains like whole grain wheat bread and brown rice, and lean meats such as grilled chicken. Being in family and consumer sciences for the past five years has taught me the right and wrong types of food to eat. I thought being savvy in nutrition would give me an A+ for my daily nutrition evaluation. To my surprise, I was wrong.
While most of the time I am getting in the B range (with the exception of one Friday night we had pizza and I received a C+ for my efforts, even after removing the pepperoni), there are factors that are keeping me from receiving the A I feel I deserve for my healthy food choices. I discovered that while most of my issues come from not having enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber, my sodium levels were extremely high.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet. That’s around the size of a teaspoon. After looking at my chart for the past two weeks, I see that my sodium levels have averaged to be almost twice what they should and as a person who has high blood pressure in her family, I know this is something that I need to work on. High sodium levels can lead to hypertension or high blood pressure development in individuals.
I immediately went to the MyPlate website (www.ChooseMyPlate.gov ) and looked for tips that will help lower my sodium intake. Here is what a fact sheet entitled: Salt and Sodium – 10 tips to Help You Cut Back, had to say:
Top Ten Tips for Lowering Sodium
1. Think Fresh – Most of the sodium Americans eat is found in packaged foods. Eat less often highly processed foods—especially salty chips; cured meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and luncheon meats; canned entrées, like chili and ravioli; and many soups.
2. Enjoy Full-Flavored, Home-Prepared Foods – Use herbs and spices to flavor foods. Preparing your own foods allows you to control the amount of sodium you eat. Make your own salad dressings with herb mixes instead of buying pre-packed ones.
3. Fill Up On Foods Naturally Low in Sodium – Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and cooked dry beans and lentils. Many Americans need to eat 3 cups—and for some people up to a total of 6 cups—of fruits and vegetables each day, depending on the amount of calories needed. Go to MyPyramid.gov to find out the amount of fruits and vegetables YOU need.
4. Get Enough, but Not TOO Much, of Some Other Foods Low in Sodium – Find out the specific amount of foods YOU need from the Milk Group and the Meat & Beans Group by going to choosemyplate.gov. Choose fresh cuts of beef, pork, poultry, fish, or eggs—and eat just the amount you need. Choose low-sodium cheese. Choose fat-free milk or reduced fat yogurt.
5. Learn to Enjoy the Natural Taste of Foods – Savor the flavor of simply prepared foods. Try cutting back on salt little by little—and pay attention to the natural tastes and textures of various foods.
6. Skip the Salt – Table salt (sodium chloride) is approximately 40% sodium. Just skip adding salt when cooking. Keep salt off the kitchen counter and the dinner table.
7. Read the Label – Use the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredients statement to find foods lower in sodium. Look for foods labeled “low sodium” or “reduced sodium.” Foods with less than 140 mg sodium per serving can be labeled as low-sodium foods.
8. Learn the Lingo – Besides “salt,” sodium comes in a range of forms. When reading ingredient statements, look for: sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite, sodium ascorbate, etc. Limit sodium and salt in food.
9. Ask for Low-Sodium Foods Where You Eat Out or Shop – Ask for what you want. The marketplace is changing and supermarkets and food manufacturers want to sell healthier foods. Many restaurants will prepare low-sodium foods at your request and will serve sauces and salad dressings on the side so you can use less. The more you make your low sodium demands known, the greater the chance that food companies will change their recipes.
10. Pay Attention to the Condiments and Seasonings You Use – Some seasonings are just about as high in sodium as regular table salt. So, instead of onion salt, use onion powder or replace garlic salt with fresh garlic. Limit the amount of brined or pickled foods. Buy low-sodium soy sauce. Use only a sprinkling of flavoring packets instead of the entire packet.
Take a few weeks to monitor your sodium intake and see if you are making healthy choices. According to the American Heart Association, high-sodium diets are linked to an increased risk for stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease. As long as you try to do at least a few of the tips listed above, you will be doing yourself a favor in the long run.
As for myself, I plan to pay more attention to the nutrition facts on the food label. I always zoom in on statistics about calories and saturated fat, but many times over look sodium. Also, instead of eating processed foods like canned soup, I’m going to make my soup from scratch so I can monitor the amount of salt. I know that with a little effort and awareness on my part, I’ll bring my B grades up to A’s.
Written by: Dana Brown, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension – Morrow County.
American Heart Association, Sodium:
USDA, 10 Tips for Lowering Sodium: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet14SaltAndSodium.pdf