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Take it With a Grain of Salt: Understanding Sodium Content

01.24.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

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Jane Jakubczak MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN; Redskins Team Nutritionist

Dietary Sodium, or salt, is a nutrition topic that is often overlooked. Most people don’t think about sodium content in their food until they are told they have high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), but did you know that if you reduce your sodium intake now you can actually reduce your risk of ever getting hypertension?

Hypertension is not just for the elderly or the overweight. I have recently worked with two Reskins players on managing their hypertension. They are both young and fit - proof that all of us need to manage the sodium level in our diet!

Sodium plays an important role in our bodies. It is involved in many bodily functions including nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, maintenance of blood pressure and fluid balance, and aids in glucose absorption. Yet like many nutrients, sodium is a perfect example of “too much of a good thing is a bad thing."

Too much sodium in your diet can place stress on your kidneys since your kidneys must work harder to eliminate the extra sodium in your body. This is why chronic hypertension can lead to kidney disease. A high sodium diet can also be hard on your heart because extra sodium attracts and holds onto extra water, which increases your blood volume. Your heart must work harder to push this higher volume of blood through your arteries and veins. This is why people with cardiovascular disease are put on a low sodium diet.

Sodium also plays an important role in our food system. Sodium is both a flavor enhancer and a preservative. The flavor enhancement property is why restaurant cuisine tends to be high in sodium and fat, both are flavor carriers and makes our food taste good. Convenience foods, the fastest growing segment of the food industry, relies on sodium to preserve their food products. Food that is packaged in a box, can or carton usually has a higher content of sodium than fresh food.

So are you convinced that managing the sodium in your diet is important? Then your next question may be how!

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends we limit our sodium to less than 2300 mg per day (approximately 1 teaspoon). The average American consumes almost twice this amount! For some populations, including people over 51 years of age, African Americans or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease the recommendation is less than 1500 mg. (To view the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, click here).

The Nutrition Facts Labels, which we discussed last week (last week's post) is mandated to list the sodium content of all foods. Start to become familiar with the sodium content of your favorite foods and you may be surprised at how quickly it adds up.

The first step in managing your sodium level is to learn the sodium content of the foods you regularly consume. Take this fun quiz to test your knowledge at www.heart.org!

In general, if you reduce the consumption of the following foods, you can significantly reduce the sodium content of your diet!

High Sodium Foods:

Restaurant food
Fast Food
Convenience Food (frozen dinners, rice mixes, mac and cheese)
Canned soups
Jarred Spaghetti Sauce
Pickles
Vegetable Juice
Soy Sauce
Teriyaki Sauce
Deli Meats
Bacon, Sausage
Cheese
Hotdogs

For an extensive list of sodium content click here.

A good goal for this week would be to track the sodium content on your food records (to learn about keeping a food record, (click here to read one of my previous posts on keeping a food record). You can find the content of sodium in your foods and beverages on food labels or look up the information at www.calorieking.com.

Helpful Resources:

- A fun slide show to learn high sodium foods can be found at webmd.com

- Healthy diet goals regarding sodium at www.heart.org

- Health and sodium http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/NU00284

Make it a Healthy Week!
Jane

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