What do soup, pizza, cold cuts, breads, burgers, and cheese have in common?
These are examples of the ‘Salty Six’ and contribute the majority of sodium in the North American diet.
Many of the items listed are high in salt content and are eaten in small amounts (cold cuts), whereas, others (bread) are lower in sodium but often eaten in higher amounts, over the day.
Most Canadians consume about double the amount of salt than what is needed. Too much sodium (salt) can raise blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Recent research reveals that in addition to cardiac disease, high blood pressure can speed up the body’s loss of calcium, leading to osteoporosis (thinning of bones). High blood pressure (or hypertension) is also a risk factor for developing diabetes, stomach cancer and increasing severity of asthma.
Fresh is best for good health. Foods without a label, such as unprocessed vegetables and fruits are naturally low in sodium.
Frozen dinners, soup, meat, sauces and canned vegetables contain a lot of extra salt. Look for labels that say, “no salt added” or “low sodium”. Health claims, such as “reduced sodium” and “less salt” may still have a high content of sodium. Before purchasing, check the Nutrition Facts label to see the amount of sodium and daily value that the item provides.
Become a savvy shopper by reading labels.
Some tips when checking sodium levels on a food label are to focus on:
1) Serving size: how much food the Nutrition Facts table refers to
2) Number of milligrams (mg) of sodium listed in the table
3) Number of servings consumed times the number of mg sodium listed = sodium consumed
4) For adults, adequate intake is 1500 mg of sodium (around 500 mg per meal) and upper limit is 2300mg (about one teaspoon/day)
5) Using colours like a traffic signal. On any single food product, (per serving): 400mg+ is too much (red/stop), 200-400mg (amber/proceed with caution), 0-200mg (green/go)
6) % Daily Value (D.V.) is a reference range for a food item. 5% DV or less is a little, and 15% DV or more is a lot.
Some methods to reduce sodium intake include, avoiding frozen dinners and ‘instant’ foods, including instant soups, oatmeal, pancakes and waffles. Also, limit pickles, relishes, salsa, dips, olives, barbecue, soy, hoisin, oyster sauces, and prepared salad dressings. Also, salted snack foods including crackers, chips, popcorn, nuts and pretzels can be loaded with sodium.
Cured meats that have been processed or smoked can have very high levels of salt, including salami, sausages, hot dogs, ham, bacon, pepperoni and smoked fish. Substitute other seasonings, such as herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour foods.
Take the salt shaker off the table and order food without the salt, whenever possible.
Gourmet salts are not any healthier than regular table salt, despite marketing claims. Sea salt, Himalayan, Kosher, Rock or table salt all have exactly the same effect on blood pressure and health.
With the information highway, there is a growing body of information available on the Internet. With the new sodium applications (www.Sodium101.ca/App) for mobile devices, there are easy ways to track sodium intake, build a list of favourite food items for quick and easy tracking, plus convert the amount of sodium in various food products.
As much as nutrition labels assist with identifying the foods with lowest sodium content, the fresh vegetable and fruit products in the produce aisle, local farmers’ markets or freshly picked from a home garden with no labels are generally the lowest sodium and healthiest options.
To help maintain reasonable blood pressure levels, daily activity is important for good health. Take advantage of the beautiful Alberni Valley outdoors for a variety of activities.
Sandra Gentleman, RD, is a local registered dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.