Saturday, September 8, 2012

Food Facts: Salt

I just completed my first research "report/submission" for one of my internships. For this research, I looked at menu items listed on the largest fast, convenience and chain food restaurants. One thing that stood out to me was the amount of fat and sodium in these foods - it was just jaw dropping!
The United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) recommends an adequate sodium intake (AI) equal to 1500mg (~2/3tsp.) with an upper limit (UL) of 2300mg (1tsp). Some items in the chain restaurants had more sodium in one meal than the USDA's upper limit of 2300mg!

Just to give you an idea, the Bellagio Chicken at the Cheesecake Factory, America's #1 Chain Restaurant, contains about 2500mg of sodium. Okay, forget it, you say, 'cause when you go to the Cheesecake Factory, you want healthy, so you go for the Weight Management Asian Chicken Salad ...wait for it ....
2400mg sodium!
Yup! 2400mg sodium, more than 1 days worth! Forget it, you don't care, now you're just gonna order their Old Fashion Hamburgers ...same ...2400mg sodium! Even a Big Mac from McDonald's has 1400mg less sodium than Cheesecake Factory's Old Fashioned Hamburger!

The current figure on how much sodium the average American consumes is now 3400mg/day!
I think this is out of control crazy! 

Yes, sodium has its rightful place - especially in sports. We all need sodium for fluid balance, muscle strength and nerve function. And we especially need to replace sodium after a sweaty work out. Eww!
Sweat is gross- except when fashioned by a cute l'il emoticon!
And I am the grossest!
By the time I'm done with my long run, 
I have salt crystals on my arms, legs, back, chest, neck and face! 
Since sweat is made up of more than just salt (sodium chloride) and you lose potassium, calcium and magnesium, I am intent on efforts to replace these minerals. I like coconut water - I keep lots of Coco Libre in my frig.
Helps to replenish all electrolytes lost in sweat:
sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium
But when 1 in 3 Americans (about 65million American adults) suffer from high blood pressure, and reducing dietary sodium levels can help lower blood pressure, you wonder if people are actually aware of how much salt they're actually eating?

It's really scary too 'cause high blood pressure can lead to some pretty serious events - like strokes, heart attacks and heart failure - and I see the results of this every day at the Rehab Center. It's sad. Of course, excess alcohol (more than 1drink per day for women and more than 2 drinks per day for men), stress, inactivity and low fruit and veggie consumption can also drive up blood pressure - it's not just salt - but salt is definitely the slyest culprit. I mean, we can tell about how many drinks we're sucking back, we know if we haven't worked out in a while and I'm pretty sure we can tell when we are under stress, especially if it has something to do with your home,  job, or sickness affecting yourself, a child, parent or friend. But, we may not always be aware of how much salt we are eating.

So, how much is too much?
I think becoming aware of where salt lurks is is the best place to start. Then, we can figure out if we are consuming too much. Most excess salt we eat doesn't come from the shaker on our stove top or even from the shaker on our table, most (about 77%) comes from processed foods, like foods that are packaged or canned and foods from the drive-thru or that restaurant you love to frequent!
Only about 12%of sodium
comes from sodium that occurs naturally in foods. 

So, learn where sodium may be lurking in your diet:
Some surprising sources of sodium include: Salad Dressing, Pre-packaged Rice & Noodle Mixes, Soup, Diet Iced Teas, Bread, Flour Tortillas, Breakfast Cereals & Granola Bars, Cheese, Pizza, Prepared Sandwiches, Chips, Crackers & Pretzels, Poultry (manufacturers may inject with sodium to make the meat juicer), Pastas, Sauces and Condiments (like catsup, relish and mustard). 

If you've been told to reduce your sodium intake, or just want to reduce your sodium intake,  start by reading labels. Look for foods that are less than 300mg sodium per serving (and make sure the serving size isn't ridiculously small). Know that Low Salt = 14mg sodium per serving and Very Low Sodium means 35mg sodium per serving, while reduced sodium means 25% less than the original version - which could still be too much! Also, learn some of sodium's aliases that may be hidden in the ingredient's list: monosodium glutamate, sodium citrate, sodium nitrate, sodium bicarbonate (heartburn meds.) and sodium alginate.

At home, you can try to flavor foods with other spices and herbs or lemon - at the Rehab Center, we offer Mrs Dash. When cooking or preparing food, you can combine high sodium foods with low sodium foods to dilute foods high in sodium, like salted nuts, soups, & some ready-to-eat cereals - better yet, use less by adding extra veggies to soups or fruit to cereals! And don't forget to rinse foods that come canned.

When your eating out, look to make healthier choices - Check out some of the The Restaurant Nutrition Apps. to get a feel for how many calories, protein, fat and sodium are in some typical entrees, or in fast and convenience food items. Like me, you will be most likely be shocked looking at these values.

Overall, the two best ways to reduce sodium in your life is
Strive to eat 2cups of fruit and 3cups of veggies per day
The USDA says that Americans need to fill half their plate with fruits and veggies! Fruits and veggies are a great source of vitamins and minerals, like potassium - and current research shows that if you increase potassium to 2X more than sodium, you could reduce cardiovascular disease up to 50%!
#2: (my favorite!)
Stay active
C'mon baby, give it all you got!
Usaine knows: You don't hold back!
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