What You Need to Know About Sodium

Sodium is present naturally or as added salt in many foods. Too much sodium in your diet can have unhealthy consequences, so it is a good idea to keep track of how much you take in. However, a common misconception is that if you pass on the salt shaker, you have done enough. The truth is, even with your salt shaker firmly put away in the cupboard, it is likely you consume more sodium than your body needs.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a joint effort prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recommend reducing the amount of sodium in your diet to about 2,300 milligrams per day – which is the amount in one teaspoon of salt. However, just 1,500 milligrams sodium per day (¾ teaspoon salt) is recommended for adults over age 51, African-Americans and those with a history of high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease and diabetes.

What does this mean to your daily food choices? Angie Kerndt, RD, LD, clinical dietitian at Winneshiek Medical Center says, “You can keep track of the amount of sodium in your diet by reading food labels. All foods have nutrition information printed on the packaging and simply adding your sodium intake per serving can give you a good idea of the amount of sodium you take in every day.” Kerndt adds, “Many healthy foods, such as low-fat cottage cheese and bread contain sodium. The Guidelines do not suggest you remove these foods from your diet, just be aware of how your sodium intake is adding up.”

Kerndt offers examples of nutritious foods with measurable natural sodium and added sodium in the form of salt:

  • string cheese (1 stick) – 180-230 mg (natural and added sodium)
  • fat-free milk (1 cup) – 120 mg (all naturally occurring sodium)
  • whole wheat bread (1 slice) – 150-200 mg (added sodium)

Kendt also reminds us that processed foods have significant sodium levels because of the salt that is added to the product:

  • condensed canned soup (1 serving NOT 1 can) – 7 ¼ ounces – 800 mg
  • microwavable meals (1 meal) – 390-1020 mg
  • pretzels (1 serving) – 2 ounces – 910 mg

“Sodium is an important part of our diets,” says Kerndt. “We just need to be careful of amounts. Too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, diabetes complications and other chronic diseases.” She suggests the following tips to help curb your daily sodium intake:

  • Prepare food using little salt or fewer high-sodium ingredients. For example, skip using salt in cooking pasta, rice, cereals and vegetables.
  • Taste food before salting it. Lightly salt food only as needed, not as a habit.
  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables which are naturally low in sodium.
  • Use herbs, spice rubs and fruit juices in cooking in place of salt.
  • Check food labels comparing like items and choose lower sodium foods. Also watch for terms like “low sodium” and “no added salt.”
  • Eat fresh, lean meats, poultry, fish, dry and fresh beans and peas, unsalted nuts and eggs, all of which contain less sodium.

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