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Friday, February 13, 2009

Cut out the Salt

Are you eating too much salt?
What's up with salt? I've heard that eating too much is not good for my health. Why should I be concerned about getting too much?

Sodium and Health
Sodium is found in table salt and salty processed foods. The sodium found in salt is what's important as far as your health is concerned.

Sodium's main role is to regulate the water balance and blood pressure in your body. Eating too much sodium is a problem as it can increase blood pressure. Having high blood pressure is a health concern that increases risk of heart disease and stroke. That's why it's especially important to cut down on sodium and salt if you have high blood pressure.

How much sodium should you have?
Healthy adults should have no more than 2,300 mg of sodium each day according to current nutrition recommendations* backed by Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. That's about the amount of sodium you would get from just one teaspoon of table salt!

The amount of sodium you actually need is much less. The recommendations suggest the following daily sodium intakes as a guide:

Adequate Daily Sodium Intakes (for healthy individuals)

Age - Group Sodium (mg)
1 - 3
4 - 8
9 - 18 1000
19 - 49
71 - + 1500

People with health problems may actually need to aim for lower sodium intakes and should follow the advice of their physician.

* National Academy of Sciences, Food and Nutrition Board, Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate, 2004.

Which food are high in sodium?
Most of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods. These are the foods you should try to have less often. High sodium foods include many canned, jarred or packaged items such as soups, sauces and seasoning mixes. Pickles, relishes, and sauerkraut are also high in sodium as these foods have been preserved in salt. Salt-cured ham, bacon, hot dogs, sausages, cold cuts and deli meats including bologna and salami are usually high in salt. Salted snack foods such as chips, crackers and nuts are also high in sodium. Some tomato sauces and vegetable juices contain a lot of sodium. In addition, many fast food choices including pizza and fries are high in salt.

You can get lower sodium or sodium-reduced alternatives for some of the foods listed above so it's good to read package labels and choose the lower sodium product.

How can I tell how much salt is in a food?
1. Look at the Nutrition Facts table to see the number of grams of sodium in a serving. For example, a packaged soup may provide over 800 mg of sodium per cup (250 mL) – have that with some salty crackers and you'll be reaching your sodium limit in no time.
2. Look at the Nutrition Facts table to check the % Daily Value for sodium. For example, a sodium-reduced soy sauce may have a 32% Daily Value for sodium which is lower than the 47% Daily Value listed for regular soy sauce. The lower the % Daily Value for sodium the better.
3. Read the ingredient list on the food label. If you see sodium as one of the first few ingredients, you can be sure the food will be a higher sodium choice. Sodium may also appear more than once in the ingredient list in different forms. For example, sodium bicarbonate, monosodium glutamate, sodium phosphate, sodium carbonate and sodium benzoate all add sodium.
4. Ask for nutrition information about menu items when eating out at restaurants. Choose the menu items with lower amounts of sodium and avoid adding more salt at the table.

Tips for controlling your salt intake
*Choose fresh foods, prepared without salt or salty seasonings most of the time.
*Flavour foods with lemon, vinegar, garlic, onion (not garlic or onion salt), herbs and spices
*Try making your own soups and pasta sauces and cut out or limit the salt.
*Omit the salt in baking and when cooking vegetables and pasta.
*Compare food labels and choose products with the lower % Daily Value for sodium.
*Request roasted chicken, turkey, or roast beef instead of salty deli or luncheon meats.
*Look for unsalted nuts, popcorn, crackers and pretzels, if you choose these for snacks.
*Try the sodium-reduced alternative to your usual products when available.
*Limit salty pickles, relishes, soy sauce, salsa, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup and other similar sauces.
*Enjoy foods without adding salt at the table.

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