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Dietitians Dish: Cut back on sodium

By By Elizabeth Sommerfeld
Dec. 25, 2012 at 6:25 a.m.


The end of the year is a time to reflect and see if you have met those health goals you set in January. It's also a time for health professionals to look back and see how the population is doing on recommended guidelines.

Looking back at the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it was recommended to decrease the amount of salt for at least half of the population (those older than 51, African-Americans, those suffering from hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease) to 1,500 milligrams per day.

This is a decrease from the previous recommendation of 2,300 milligrams per day. The average American intake is 3,400 milligrams per day. Therefore the American Heart Association recommended a gradual reduction in salt intake to a goal of 2,000 milligrams per day by 2013 and 1,500 milligrams per day by 2020.

Processed foods account for more than 75 percent of our sodium intake. Therefore, to help consumers reach the recommendations, manufacturers are working to reduce the amount of sodium used in processing.

With the manufacturers working to lower the sodium content, learning to read food labels and claims is beneficial. To better understand what food labels are telling you about salt content, the Food and Drug Administration has set up the following definitions for claims.

Sodium-free or salt-free means that the product has less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Very low sodium/very low salt means that there is less than 35 milligrams or less of sodium per servings.

Low sodium/salt indicates less than 140 milligrams per serving.

Reduced sodium/salt means that at least 25 percent less sodium than a similar product.

Lightly salted/light in sodium means the product contains half the amount of salt as the original product.

No salt added or unsalted indicates that there is no additional sodium or salt added in processing. The food itself may naturally contain sodium/salt.

I often hear that people think sea salt is better than regular table salt. There are many reasons the public touts sea salt as better than table salt. For example, many cooks or chefs like to use sea salt because it is more coarse, some people like the idea that it is less processed and others because it contains other minerals such as magnesium, calcium and potassium.

However, the sodium content in sea salt is about the same as iodized (table) salt.

Salt is combined from two elements, chloride which makes up about 60 percent of salt and sodium, which makes up 40 percent of salt. The American Heart Association also indicates that the small amount of additional minerals found in sea salt can be found in other healthy foods.

Sea salt has not been iodized, which can lead to an iodine deficiency. This is currently not common in the United States, but with a reduction of the amount of salt consumption, there is some concern that this may become a problem.

If you are concerned about how much sodium you are eating, consider taking the shaker test. Place a piece of plastic wrap over your food and salt the food like you would normally. Then remove the plastic wrap and pour salt into a measuring spoon. You may be surprised with how much salt you are actually using.

For more information on salt or how to season foods without salt, check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website at eatright.org or the American Heart Association at heart.org.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld is the Clinical Nutrition Manager/Bariatric Coordinator at DeTar Healthcare Systems. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and has a master of science degree. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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