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CDC Uncovers: The Sodium Lurking In Your Foods

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  March 6, 2012 04:22 PM

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Source:  USDA
Not surprisingly, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently uncovered that nine out of every ten Americans, or 90 percent of us, are eating way more sodium than currently recommended.   Americans, on average, are consuming about 3,300 mg (the equivalent of about 1.5 teaspoons of salt, see photo at left) daily.  Unfortunately, this is above the 2,300 mg upper limited recommended by the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines and even farther from the ideal of limiting it to 1,500 mg daily.

What's the fuss?  Dietary sodium can rise blood pressure and research shows that high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, the first and fourth leading cause among Americans.

It has long been known that processed foods are the biggest ticket items when it comes to dietary sodium.  According to the CDC, approximately 65 percent of our daily sodium consumption comes from foods purchased outside the home, such as at a supermarket or convenience store.  In fact, the CDC identified that over 40% of the sodium that we eat comes from these 10 categories of processed foods:

1.    Breads and rolls  
2.    Cold cuts and cured meats  
3.    Pizza  
4.    Poultry  
5.    Soups  
6.    Sandwiches 
7.    Cheese  
8.    Pasta dishes 
9.    Meat dishes  
10.  Snacks

While cold cuts, cured meats, and soups have a history of being notoriously high in sodium, surprisingly, bread and rolls actually top the list due to the frequency that we eat them daily.   Obliviously, since so much sodium is already in the foods that Americans buy, food manufacturers need to ratchet down the sodium content in their products to help Americans ratchet down their blood pressure.

To help in this cause, many food companies such as Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup Company, Wishbone, and Dietz and Watson have signed on to the National Salt Reduction Initiative.  As part of the initiative, each company must pledge to reduce the sodium within their product line (canned soup, cold cuts., etc.) to within a specific level.  The goal of the initiative is to reduce Americans' salt intake by 20 percent over five years.  For example, Pepperidge Farm, a subsidiary of the Campbell Soup Company, have reduced the sodium in their breads by at least 25 percent as compared to regular breads, rolls, and bagels.  The USDA plans to continually monitor the sodium content in processed foods.

As a consumer, you can control your sodium intake by comparison shopping.    For example, the sodium per serving in these three cans of soup range from a low of 120 mg to a high of over 800 mg.  Since consumers "talk with their food dollars," choosing the brand with the lowest sodium will send a message to food manufacturers that lowering sodium is important to the consumer.

For more help in choosing lower sodium alternatives, use this nifty chart.

What are some tips that you use to reduce the sodium in your diet?
Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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