Salt in Your Diet

February 11, 2017

Are you conscious about the amount of salt (aka sodium chloride) you eat? Are you certain the amount of salt you eat is appropriate for your body?

You may be surprised to find out you consume more salt than you think.

You may not use salt at all, and you still may be consuming too much of it if you eat a lot of prepared and processed foods. As a matter of fact, the sodium in most people’s diets in the United States comes from processed and prepared foods found in restaurants and grocery stores.

Now, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to restrict the amount of sodium added to foods. A draft guidance for industry has been released by the FDA with the intent to have industries decrease the amount of sodium added to prepared and processed foods. The restriction concerns the amount of salt added to your foods before by the restaurants and manufacturers before you even get a chance to season them yourself.

The objective of the FDA is to have people decrease their daily salt intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day, which is the equivalent to a teaspoon of salt. Right now, Americans consume about 50% more than what’s recommended for a daily allowance.

The Problem with Excess Sodium Consumption

The terms salt and sodium may be used as synonyms, but they are not identical substances. Salt is the crystal-like substance you sprinkle over your food and is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Sodium is a mineral found in salt, but salt is the primary form that you consume sodium. Almost 95% of the sodium consumed–whether added by you or added by the manufacturer comes in salt form.

The body needs sodium to assist in doing its daily functions, and sodium can be found naturally in a lot of foods (including milk, beets and celery). Regardless of which form it’s in, sodium is also used to improve flavor, thicken foods and preserve foods.

The downside of sodium is the potential for it to cause high blood pressure, which is a precursor to heart disease and stroke. Therefore, a lot of deaths and sickness can be eliminated just by decreasing sodium intake.  

What Foods Are Typically High in Sodium?

Prepared and processed foods like soups, cheese, pizza, pasta dishes, snacks, sandwiches and salad dressings are rich in sodium.

You can’t assume a food has little sodium just because you can’t hardly taste any salt in it. That’s because most foods high in sodium won’t taste salty like pickles do. For example, pastries and sweet cereals are high in sodium but don’t taste salty. Also, some foods are low in sodium but may be consumed in quantities that make them a risky source of sodium (like a slice of bread).

When shopping for food, consumers can read food labels and choose foods that are lower in sodium.

The Nutrition Facts Label on food and beverage packages lists the “Percent Daily Value (%DV)” of sodium in one serving of a food, based on 2,400 mg per day.  The %DV tells you whether a food contributes a little or a lot to your total daily diet. Foods providing 5%DV or less of sodium per serving are considered low in sodium and foods providing 20%DV or more of sodium per serving are considered high. But remember, all of the nutrition information on the label is based upon one serving of the food and many packaged foods have more than one serving.

It is recommended that consumers not exceed 100% of the daily value for sodium and those advised to limit intake to 1,500 mg per day should aim for about 65% of the daily value.

Consumers can also be aware of the sources of sodium in their diet. In a report issued in February 2012, CDC identified these 10 foods as the greatest sources of sodium:

  • breads and rolls
  • luncheon meat, such as deli ham or turkey
  • pizza
  • poultry, fresh and processed—(Much of the raw chicken bought from a store has been injected with a sodium solution.)
  • soups
  • cheeseburgers and other sandwiches
  • cheese, natural and processed
  • pasta dishes
  • meat dishes, such as meat loaf with gravy
  • savory snack foods, such as potato chips, pretzels and popcorn

And how do you know how much sodium is in the food served at your favorite restaurant? Fasano notes that many chain restaurants are putting the nutritional content of their foods—including calories, fats, sodium and sugars—on their websites, or it’s available by asking for it.

FDA has also created a number of online resources to help consumers reduce their sodium intake. They include:

  • A Sodium Reduction website provides links to resources on how to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet.
  • A Sodium Education website offers consumer advice on how to use the Nutrition Facts Label to reduce sodium intake.
  • The Spot the Block campaign challenges tweens from 9 to 13 to use the Nutrition Facts Label (the “block”) to make healthy food choices.

Reduce Sodium Intake!

March 1, 2013

Most Americans consume way too much sodium, with salt (sodium chloride) being the most common form. That can be a serious health hazard, because excess sodium consumption contributes to the development and escalation of high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.

Research shows that Americans consume on average about 3,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium every day. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a reduction of sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg daily.

And those age 51 and older, and people of any age who are African-American or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should further reduce sodium intake to 1,500 mg daily. This amount meets your essential need for sodium.  These populations comprise about half the U.S. population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that children and adolescents consume about the same amount of sodium as adults and also risk developing high blood pressure. The researchers found that kids who consumed the most sodium faced double the risk of having high blood pressure, compared to those who took in less sodium. For overweight or obese children, the risk was more than triple.

“There has been a common misconception that sodium intake is just a concern for people with high blood pressure,” says Jessica Leighton, Ph.D., MPH, senior advisor for science in the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine. “But it’s a health risk for all people, including children, as the CDC report shows.”

FDA is working on a number of fronts to help consumers manage their sodium intake.