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Jul 30, 2013

Sodium Levels Remain High in Popular Foods

Study finds little progress in reducing sodium levels of common processed and restaurant foods since 2005.

Most Americans consume far more salt than is recommended by experts, contributing to increased risk for high blood pressureheart disease and stroke. That’s why organizations like the American Heart Association recommend that we cut back our salt consumption to no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. By reducing the amount of sodium contained in foods and making a conscious effort to consume less salt on a daily basis, we can help protect our hearts and overall health. But according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, sodium levels remain high in popular foods, making it difficult to make headway in lowering salt consumption nationwide.

This study looked at our top five sources of sodium, which include bread, cold cuts, pizza, poultry and soups. Some of these foods were found at supermarkets like Whole Foods and Walmart, while others came from popular fast food restaurants—Arby’s, Burger King, McDonald’s and so on. After obtaining nutritional information from either labels or online listings, researchers found that on average between 2005 and 2011, the sodium content in 402 processed foods declined by about 3.5%, while the sodium content in 78 fast-food restaurant products increased by just under 3%. Some products, however, cut back on sodium levels during this period by as much as one-third, while others increased by 30%. Interestingly, smoked bacon had the most sodium among the food categories included in this study, followed by Caesar salad dressing.

Experts are disappointed by these findings given significant efforts to reduce sodium consumption nationwide. Reductions in sodium levels of both processed and restaurant foods are inconsistent and slow, and researchers believe that we need stronger governmental action to see any meaningful changes in sodium consumption. If we want Americans to cut back on salt intake to 1,500 mg. a day (equivalent to less than one teaspoon of salt), we not only need to encourage the public to eat healthier but we also need to reduce sodium levels in foods across the board.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What foods should I avoid when trying to limit sodium intake?

  • While many foods naturally contain small amounts of sodium, it is estimated that 75 percent of dietary sodium comes from processed foods. When limiting salt intake, try to avoid prepared meals and limit consumption of condiments, canned and frozen foods, and packaged snacks, which contain some of the highest concentrations of sodium. Always read food labels when possible to help accurately measure your salt intake each day.
  • What can I do to reduce my sodium intake?
  • Most of the sodium you get each day comes from processed foods rather than salt you use in cooking and at the table. Here are some tips to help you shake the sodium out of your diet: 

    • Avoid prepared foods. High sodium foods include:

      • Salty snacks such as chips and pretzels
      • Canned soups and sauces
      • Cured meats such as bacon and ham
      • Foods packed in salt water such as pickles, olives, and canned tuna
      • Frozen pizzas and dinners
      • Fast food

    • Use fresh foods whenever possible. Good choices include:

      • Fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables without added salt
      • Fresh meats, fish, and poultry rather than cooked or prepared items
      • Herbs and spices as seasoning instead than salt

    • Learn to read food labels.  Look at the “Nutrition Facts” panel on the label of packaged foods. This will tell you how much sodium is in the food.  When figuring out your sodium intake from the food label, keep in mind:

      • The milligrams (mg) listed is per serving. It is not for the whole package.  If you eat more or less than what they consider one serving, you’ll have to do the math to figure out how much sodium you are getting.

      • The percent of daily value (% DV) is based on 2400 mg a day, not the recommended 1500 mg. That means the sodium in a serving is a higher percent of your daily limit than what is listed on the label.

    • Choose carefully in restaurants. Restaurant food is high in sodium. Some ways to eat out and still keep your sodium level under control include:

      • Having your meal prepared without added salt
      • Asking that sauces, gravies, and salad dressings be served on the side
      • Selecting fresh vegetables, fruits, and salads and plain meats or fish from the menu

Featured Video

Processed foods are responsible for 75% of the excessive sodium consumed by Americans.

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