By: Adrienne Starr
King City Rustler, Jan 2011
Adrienne Starr, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Mee Memorial Hospital, talks about how people can take simple steps to reduce their sodium intake.
Reduce your risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease
My number one nutrition recommendation for the New Year is to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. We often hear that we need to reduce sodium to lower blood pressure but we rarely hear why or how reducing sodium is beneficial to our health. In small amounts sodium is beneficial. It helps maintain fluid balance in the body, helps to transmit nerve impulses and influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Your kidneys regulate the amount of sodium the body retains. When sodium is low your body conserves it. When it is high your body excretes it in urine.
If your body can’t excrete enough sodium it builds up in your blood. One of the chemical characteristics of sodium is that it attracts water. When the sodium in the bloodstream attracts water it increases the volume of blood running through the vessels. This causes the heart to work harder to move the blood through the body increasing the pressure in the arteries. This results in an increase in blood pressure.
The average intake of sodium is 4,000 mg per day. Dietary guidelines recommend consumption of less than 2300 mg per day. On average, 77 percent of our intake of sodium comes from processed foods and 11 percent comes from adding salt or other condiments to foods when cooking or eating. When foods are processed you generally see a reduction of beneficial potassium in the fresh food, and an increase in the sodium content of the processed food.
Food companies use more sodium than needed to flavor foods in order to capitalize on the water attracting properties of the mineral which causes the food to increase in volume, which in turns makes them more money by stretching out the product. It also causes you to be thirsty and many food companies have beverage subsidiaries and beverage lines which end up making them even more money because you need a beverage to quench your thirst when you eat the high sodium food you just bought. Retrain your taste buds. Sodium is an acquired taste. We have learned to like salty things. After eating a lower sodium diet for three to four weeks we start to lose the lust for sodium. Fresh foods will taste better. Processed foods will be less appealing. An added benefit can often be weight loss because the approaches to consuming less sodium often result in consumption of fresher foods and fewer calories.
If you adopt the following tips you should be able to lower your sodium intake and reduce your hunger for salt in your life:
- Be a health conscious shopper. Look at the food label. If the percent sodium is higher than 20% of the DV it is high in sodium. Make another choice. Be aware of the amount of sodium in the foods you eat.
- Look at the nutrition analysis of menu items from restaurants and fast food establishments. You will be shocked at what you see. A Denny’s spicy buffalo chicken melt sandwich has 3870 mg of sodium. A McDonald’s grilled chicken classic sandwich has 1190 mg.
- Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods.
- If you do purchase processed foods look for the lower sodium products.
- Don’t add salt at the table and use sea salt for cooking. Sea salt is lower in sodium per teaspoon than regular table salt.
Wishing you all a healthy and Nutritious 2011!
Adrienne Starr, R.D., CSG, is the Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Mee Memorial Hospital.