Monday, January 11, 2010

The National Salt Reduction Initiative

New York city is leading a number of cities, states, and national health organizations in the initiative to lower sodium in prepared foods. The goal is to lower added sodium by 25% over the next few years to result in reducing the average American's daily sodium intake by 20%.

The daily value for sodium intake is 2300 milligrams. The average American eats more like 4000 milligrams per day, with some people eating twice this much.  Contrary to popular belief, most of the sodium we get in our diet doesn't come from adding salt to our food. Rather it comes from the sodium added by food manufacturers to frozen foods, canned foods, prepared packaged foods, and restaurant foods with fast foods being particularly high. It's not tough to exceed the recommendations if you eat any kind of prepared or processed foods: A fast food meal can contain 2000 milligrams--the amount in an entire teaspoon of salt--and a can of soup or a frozen dinner can easily provide 1000 milligrams. This doesn't leave much room to sprinkle a bit of salt on your eggs or mashed potatoes.

Why is it healthy to limit sodium in the diet? Large amounts of sodium on a daily basis contribute to developing high blood pressure in many people. High blood pressure can lead to strokes and kidney failure. Many others have reasons to limit their sodium intake for health reasons involving their heart, lungs, or kidneys.
Is it possible for manufacturers and fast food establishments to make their food with less sodium? Absolutely. Many soups provide a "low sodium" alternative (which means--by FDA regulations--it contains less than 140 milligrams) as well as a "lower sodium" variety (which reduces the original content by a certain percent--perhaps 400 milligrams instead of the usual 600 milligrams--and people often prefer the taste of this to the can with much less sodium).

Many brands of frozen food dinners purposely manufacture their products with less sodium than others, and lots of snack foods like chips, crackers and pretzels have a line of lower salt snacks for those who are interested.

Ideally, over the next couple of years more companies will be featuring lower sodium recipes for their soups, stews, lunchmeats, and fast food burgers. Other countries, including the UK and Canada, have already begun working to reduce their overall sodium content in prepared foods. This initiative could go a long way in reducing the number of people who end up with high blood pressure and the resulting complications.

In the meantime, check your food labels. Do comparison shopping. When you find a similar product with a significantly lower amount of sodium (say, 100 or more milligrams difference) you can begin to reduce your sodium intake with your own initiative!