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New Salt Guidelines for All Americans

10/27/2016

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How much salt do you eat each day? The average person consumes 3,500 milligrams of sodium a day. That's almost two teaspoons of salt! The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams a day. The American Heart Association goes even lower, suggesting no more than 1,500 milligrams a day for optimal heart health. Why is sodium bad for health? First, it can cause high blood pressure, and people with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. As the American Heart Association explains it, you need a certain balance of sodium and water in your body to work properly. When you’re healthy, your kidneys get rid of extra sodium to keep the correct balance, but too much sodium in your system causes your body to retain water. This puts a strain on your heart and blood vessels, which may lead to high blood pressure. One in three Americans suffers from high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other studies, like one published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, claim that even if you don't develop high blood pressure from eating too much salt, you may still be damaging your blood vessels, heart, kidneys and brain.

Why Do We Eat So Much Salt?

Most of us likely underestimate how much sodium we eat, if we estimate it at all. But even if you've committed to reducing your salt intake, the majority of salt in your diet doesn't come from your personal salt shaker -- it comes from processed foods and restaurant meals. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration estimates 75 percent of your daily salt intakes comes from these sources. And you need to watch out for more than just french fries and potato chips! Several common foods add much more salt to your diet than you might think. Here is a list of Health.com's  25 surprisingly salty processed foods. The list includes:
  • 3 Kellogg's Eggo buttermilk pancakes with syrup: 670 milligrams of salt, 25 percent of your daily allowance.
  • 2 slices of Pepperidge Farm pumpernickel bread: 380 milligrams of salt, 15 percent of your daily allowance.
  • 1 slice of Duncan Hines devil's food cake: 380 milligrams of salt, 15 percent of your daily allowance.
  • 1 bowl of Kellogg's raisin bran: 350 milligrams of salt, almost 15 percent of your daily allowance.
But if the Food and Drug Administration has its way, restaurants and processed food manufacturers will  soon start lowering the sodium in their offerings.

The New Salt Guidelines

After years of debate, this year the FDA called on restaurants and food companies to cut the salt with a new set of guidelines. Their proposal aims to reduce sodium in foods over the next 10 years, with the goal of decreasing Americans’ salt intake from a current average of 3,400 milligrams down to 2,300.

The guidelines set recommended limits for about 150 categories of foods, like cereals, pizzas, pastas, breads and sandwich meat. Although the new guidelines are voluntary, the FDA hopes they will eventually prevent thousands of deaths each year from heart disease and stroke. Health groups have argued for mandatory standards, but say voluntary guidelines are a good first step because they will set a benchmark by which food companies can be measured.

However, the salt reduction in these food categories will happen slowly. Some categories have a two-year window to comply with the guidelines, while others have a 10-year window. The idea is to encourage gradual changes to give consumers' taste buds time to adjust and manufacturers time to develop lower-sodium foods.

Ways to Reduce Your Salt Intake Now

If you want to reduce your salt intake now, here are some strategies from the  American Heart Association. For more information check out the AHA's Salt Reduction Initiative website.

At the store:

  • Choose packaged and prepared foods carefully. Compare Nutrition Facts labels. You might be surprised that different brands of the same food can have different sodium levels.
  • Pick fresh and frozen poultry that hasn’t been injected with a sodium solution. Check the fine print on the packaging for terms like “broth,” “saline,” or “sodium solution.”
  • Choose condiments carefully. For example, soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, dips, ketchup, jarred salsas, capers, mustard, pickles, olives and relish can be very high in sodium. Look for a reduced or lower-sodium version.
  • Choose canned vegetables labeled “no salt added” and frozen vegetables without salty sauces. When you add these to a casserole, soup, or other mixed dish, there will be so many other ingredients involved you won’t miss the salt.
  • Look for products with the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark, which means the food meets AHA’s sodium criteria. If you'd like to know more about the Heart-Check Food Certification Program, visit www.heartcheck.org.

When you cook:

  • Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegar in place of some of the salt to add flavor to foods.
  • Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables. This can cut the sodium by up to 40 percent.
  • Combine lower-sodium versions of food with regular versions. If you don’t like the taste of lower-sodium foods right now, try combining them in equal parts with a regular version of the same food. You’ll get less salt and probably won’t notice much difference in taste. This works especially well for broths, soups, and tomato-based pasta sauces.
  • Cook pasta, rice, and hot cereal without salt. You’re likely going to add other flavorful ingredients to these foods, so you won’t miss the salt.
  • Cook by grilling, braising, roasting, searing, and sautéing to bring out the natural flavors in foods. This will reduce the need to add salt.
  • Incorporate foods with potassium, like sweet potatoes, potatoes, greens, tomatoes and lower-sodium tomato sauce, white beans, kidney beans, nonfat yogurt, oranges, bananas and cantaloupe. Potassium helps counter the effects of sodium and may help lower your blood pressure.

Dining in restaurants:

  • Specify how you want your food prepared. Ask for your dish to be made without extra salt.
  • Taste your food before adding salt. If your dish needs a flavor boost, add freshly ground black pepper or a squeeze of fresh lemon and test it again before adding salt.
  • Watch out for food described as pickled, brined, barbecued, cured or smoked. Also watch out for soy sauce, miso, and teriyaki sauce, as well as many broths and au jus. These tend to be high in sodium. Foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted may have less sodium.
  • Control portion sizes. When you cut calories, you usually cut the sodium, too. Ask if smaller portions are available or share the meal with a friend. Or, ask for a to-go box when you order and place half the meal in the box to eat later.
  • Ask about the sodium content of the menu items. A new law requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to provide nutrition information, including sodium content, at the request of customers.

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