Salt, as with most good things… in Moderation

Now that we have all enjoyed a good barbecued meal for the 4th of July, lets discuss a few important points regarding that salt shaker.

We at U.S. HealthWorks know that many meal options include foods ranked high in sodium, and as a culture, we tend to salt up without thinking about the consequences.  As we watch news reports on obesity, diabetes and hypertension, we forget how significantly many of our food choices impact our health.  Many of us are keenly aware and monitor the medications and supplements we consume, however forget the power behind the product we consume every day… food.

Photo credit: FDA

Sodium plays an important role in maintaining the body’s fluid balance, it is essential for muscles and nerves to function properly and it is a leading dietary factor in the aggravation of hypertension and its consequences.

The FDA guidelines call for less than 2,400 mg of sodium per day — about 1 teaspoon of table salt. Surprisingly, most of our salt intake doesn’t come from the salt shaker; it’s hidden in many of the foods we buy at the grocery store.


Frozen Dinners
The American quick meal!  Always easy and quick, but they are loaded with sodium, many over 800 mg of sodium.  A tiny 5 oz frozen turkey and gravy dinner packs a whopping 780 mg of sodium.

Tip:  Beware the “lighter” version may have less salt, but it’s no guarantee. Read the labels to be sure. Many times “Lighter” refers to fat only, and may be packed with salt and sugar to make the meal more tasty.

Packaged Deli Meats
One look at the sodium content in packaged meats should stop you in your tracks.  If you are already dealing with a diagnosis of hypertension it might literally stop you in your tracks! Beef or pork salami (2 slices) can pack 604 mg of sodium.

Tip: Be a label reader. There’s no way around it — different brands and different meats have differing amounts of sodium. And beware: a “healthier” packaged meat may actually have more sodium than its higher-fat counterpart. Some brands have meats with 50% less sodium.

Marinades and Flavorings
Notoriously high-sodium offenders include teriyaki sauce (1 tablespoon) which contains 690 mg of sodium, and soy sauce (1 tablespoon), which may contain up to 1,000 mg of sodium.

Tips: Even “lower-sodium” soy sauce packs a wallop, so use sparingly. Go for vinegar and lemon juice to enhance flavor — they naturally have less sodium. And try orange or pineapple juice as a base for meat marinades.

Spicing It Up
Adding spices to an entrée can be an easy way to forgo the salt shaker. Just make sure there’s no hidden sodium in your selection. For example, canned jalapeno peppers (1/4 cup, solids and liquids) contain about 434 mg of sodium.

Tip: Go for the pepper in its natural form to ditch the sodium used in processing. Or use herbs and sodium-free spices instead.

The Obvious Offenders
These snack-time favorites are always going to have a high salt content. Here’s how a 1 oz servings compare:
•    Potato chips = 149 mg
•    Cheese puffs = 258 mg
•    Pretzels = 385 mg

Tip: Even “baked” or fat-free snacks can pack the same amount of sodium or more, so read the label.  Again remember, low-fat often means high sodium and/or sugar.

Condiments Do Count
If you think those little extras you add to your food don’t count, think again.
•    Ketchup (1 tbsp) = 178 mg
•    Sweet relish (1 tbsp) = 121 mg
•    Capers (1 tbsp) = 255 mg

Tip: Go for low-sodium or sodium-free condiments. Or get creative with your substitutions: Try cranberry relish or apple butter for a naturally lower sodium choice.

Food Label Claims
Can’t keep up with the jargon? Here’s a cheat sheet:
•    Sodium-free: Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
•    Very low-sodium: 35 mg or less per serving
•    Low-sodium: Less than 140 mg per serving
•    Reduced sodium: Sodium level reduced by 25%
•    Unsalted, no salt added, or without added salt: Made without the salt that’s normally used, but still contains the sodium that’s a natural part of the food itself.

‘Dos’ When Dining Out
•    Ask how food is prepared.
•    Choose a restaurant where food is made to order.
•    Ask that your meal be prepared without any forms of sodium, then add a dash of low-sodium seasoning you brought from home.
•    Request unsalted butter for your bread.

Who Should Go Low-Sodium?
Eating less sodium can help lower blood pressure in some individuals. It can help reduce the risk of heart disease, as well. For people with high blood pressure, eating high-sodium foods raises their risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage.  Again, for most of us, it is about balance and moderation.

Track Your Sodium Intake
As with anything related to your health, ultimately it’s up to you to make wise and healthy decisions.  Wellness is more than an annual physical provided by your employer or insurance carrier; it is the state of balance we all should strive toward by educating ourselves, involving your physician as a resource and moving forward with decisions that improve your life.  We want you to be healthy and happy for a long time.

-Troy Manchester, M.D. Regional Medical Director, Northern California

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