Nutrition basics (19)
- Boiling down the dietary guidelines
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- Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
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Healthy diets (12)
- DASH diet: Tips for dining out
- DASH diet: Tips for shopping and cooking
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- Healthy chicken recipes
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Sodium: How to tame your salt habit now
Sodium: Be a savvy shopper
Taste alone may not tell you which foods are high in sodium. For example, you may not think a bagel tastes salty, but a typical 4-inch (10-centimeter) oat-bran bagel has about 532 mg of sodium, and even a slice of whole-wheat bread contains 132 mg of sodium.
So how can you tell which foods are high in sodium? Read food labels. The Nutrition Facts label found on most packaged and processed foods lists the amount of sodium in each serving. It also lists whether the ingredients include salt or sodium-containing compounds, such as:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Disodium phosphate
- Sodium alginate
- Sodium nitrate or nitrite
Know your labels
Many food packages include sodium-related terms. Here's what they mean:
- Sodium-free or salt-free. Each serving in this product contains less than 5 mg of sodium.
- Very low sodium. Each serving contains 35 mg of sodium or less.
- Low sodium. Each serving contains 140 mg of sodium or less.
- Reduced or less sodium. The product contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version. You should check the label to see how much sodium is in a serving.
- Lite or light in sodium. The sodium content has been reduced by at least 50 percent from the regular version. You should check the label to see how much sodium is in a serving.
- Unsalted or no salt added. No salt is added during processing of a food that normally contains salt. However, some foods with these labels may still be high in sodium because some of the ingredients may be high in sodium.
But watch out — foods labeled "reduced sodium" or "light in sodium" may still contain a lot of salt. For example, regular canned chicken noodle soup contains about 1,100 mg of sodium per cup, so a product with 25 percent less sodium still has a whopping 820 mg of sodium per cup. The same holds true for "lite" or "light in sodium" varieties.
Try to avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving. And check the Nutrition Facts label closely for the serving size — and consider how many servings you actually eat.
Sodium: More tips to cut back
Virtually all Americans can benefit from reducing the sodium in their diet. Here are more ways you can cut back on sodium:
- Eat more fresh foods. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Also, fresh meat is lower in sodium than are luncheon meat, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham. Buy fresh and frozen poultry or meat that hasn't been injected with a sodium-containing solution. Look on the label or ask your butcher. Buy plain whole-grain rice and pasta instead of ones that have added seasonings. Make your own soups from scratch.
- Opt for low-sodium products. If you do buy processed foods, choose those that are labeled "low sodium."
- Remove salt from recipes whenever possible. You can leave out the salt in many recipes, including casseroles, stews and other main dishes that you cook. Baked goods are generally an exception since leaving out the salt could affect the quality and taste. Use cookbooks that focus on lowering risks of high blood pressure and heart disease to help guide you to sparing the salt without spoiling taste or quality.
- Limit use of sodium-laden condiments. Soy sauce, salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard and relish all contain sodium.
- Use herbs, spices and other flavorings to enhance foods. Use fresh or dried herbs, spices, zest from citrus fruit, and fruit juices to jazz up your meals. And remember that sea salt has about the same amount of sodium as table salt.
- Use salt substitutes wisely. Some salt substitutes or light salts contain a mixture of table salt and other compounds. To achieve that familiar salty taste, you may use too much of the substitute — and get too much sodium. Also, many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride. Although potassium can lessen some of the problems from excess sodium, too much potassium can be harmful if you have kidney problems or if you're taking medications for congestive heart failure or high blood pressure that cause potassium retention.
Sodium: Cut back gradually
Your taste for salt is acquired, so you can learn to enjoy less. Decrease your use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust. After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, you probably won't miss it, and some foods may even taste too salty. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of salt daily — at the table and in cooking. Then throw away the salt shaker. As you use less salt, your preference for it diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the taste of the food itself, with heart-healthy benefits.Previous page
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- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search. Accessed Feb. 21, 2011.
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- Sodium (salt or sodium chloride). American Heart Association. http://www.americanheart.org/print_presenter.jhtml?identifier=4708. Accessed Feb. 2, 2011.
- Duyff RL. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 3rd ed. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons; 2006.
- Bibbins-Domingo K, et al. Projected effect of dietary salt reductions on future cardiovascular disease. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010;362:590.
- Sheps SG, ed. Mayo Clinic: 5 Steps to Controlling High Blood Pressure. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2008.
- Sheps SG (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 21, 2011.
- Nelson JK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 21, 2011.