What's All The Fuss About Sodium?

6 years ago

It’s been exactly one year since the new U.S. dietary guidelines were introduced. The big change was for those of us over 50 or African Americans – that means half of all Americans. We’re being told to limit our daily sodium consumption to 1500 milligrams a day, or approximately 2/3 of a teaspoon. For everyone else it’s approximately one teaspoon, or 2300 milligrams.

First, let’s clarify: Are sodium and salt interchangeable?

Sodium and table salt are different. About half the weight of table salt is from sodium. The other half is from another electrolyte, chloride. Sodium is essential for several body functions, and most of us can get all we need from the natural foods we eat. Iodized table salt provides a good source of iodine (for thyroid function), too.

What counts in our total daily tally?

Here are the components of sodium consumption:

+ Naturally occurring in food
+ Added at the table or in cooking
+ In processed foods
= Total daily intake of sodium

Most of us get ¾ of our sodium from processed foods and ¼ from our own shakers at the table.  Processed foods, from frozen pizza to canned vegetables to packaged lunch meats, all contain high levels of sodium.

In a conversation with Terese Scollard RD, dietitian at Providence Health & Services System in Portland, Oregon, she framed the problem with getting too much sodium this way:

“While sodium is critical to staying alive, our taste dependence and penchant for eating out, and eating processed heat and serve foods, contributes directly to higher than necessary sodium intake.  Together with obesity, sedentary lifestyle and low consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk/yogurt, sodium contributes to high rates of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

“Hidden Sodium”

The biggest culprits for “hidden sodium” are processed foods and sodium containing seasoning blends and sauces, because it’s added during the manufacturing process. That means it’s already there when we purchase the food. And, “hidden sodium” is widespread in our food supply.

Wow, this is hard for all of us. Here’s the way I try to cut down.  Can you try this?

When you make your shopping list, look in the freezer, on the refrigerator door and in the cupboard at the packaged foods.  Read the labels and ask yourself, “Can I make this food better for myself if I quit buying the packaged kind?” Could you eliminate any of these items?

Packaged luncheon meats
Instead, make chicken or turkey for a weekend dinner and use leftovers for lunches and casseroles during the week, like Chicken with Red Rice and Spice.

Bouillon cubes 
Instead, use boxed low-salt versions, or better yet, make your own broth from the bones of the meat above using my easy stock recipe.

French fries
Make your own oven-baked fries instead.

Canned beans
You can decrease sodium intake 41% by rinsing the beans before use or by choosing low- or no-salt beans. Better yet, soak dried beans and cook them yourself. You’ll save money, too! Here’s our recipe for Sausage, Italian White Beans and Garlicky Swiss Chard

Prepared salad dressings
High in sodium, sugar and/or fat, leave them at the store and commit to making your own dressings with vinegars, olive oil and herbs.

Table salt shaker
Substitute fresh or dried herbs, or use store bought combinations, like Ms. Dash, all of which have zero added salt. Or choose a recipe with lots of flavor like this Chicken Curry over Lentils.

Read labels

Another good habit to get into is reading food labels. But, do you know the difference between “low sodium” and “reduced sodium?” Manufactures can use a number of different labels on their products, but what they mean isn’t always clear. Need a translation? Check my article on how to decipher food packaging labels.

Choose one of these ideas and begin making your own food for a healthier family.

Remember, if I can do it, you can, too!

Susan Levy
Publisher, Well-Fed Heart

This is an article written by a member of the SheKnows Community. The SheKnows editorial team has not edited, vetted or endorsed the content of this post. Want to join our amazing community and share your own story? Sign up here.

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