Sodium still a concern with pricey types of salt

chow_021216-186234502My wife recently bought some pink Himalayan salt. Besides being pretty, it’s expensive and isn’t even iodized. Is it somehow healthier?  

Different types of salt might provide distinct flavors. Some chefs and others with refined palates swear by one type or another. Others, though, really can’t tell a difference.

As far as nutrition goes, your instincts are correct. All salt contains sodium, which is the nutrient of concern when it comes to salt. Americans average about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, but the recommended level is 2,300 milligrams, or even less — 1,500 milligrams a day for people over 50, African Americans, or anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

The body needs a modest amount of sodium, but 9 in 10 Americans go way overboard, contributing to high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis and even headaches. In fact, according to a 2010 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, if everyone reduced their sodium intake to recommended amounts, up to 66,000 strokes and 99,000 heart attacks could be prevented annually.

Different kinds of salt might provide varying amounts of sodium, but the levels between them are negligible. It’s important to know, too, that the vast majority of sodium consumed in the American diet comes from highly processed foods. A cup of soup contains up to 940 milligrams of sodium. One slice of bologna has almost 300 milligrams. A slice of bread may have up to 230 milligrams.

That’s one reason it’s so important to read Nutrition Facts labels and examine them for sodium content, or purchase foods with “sodium-free” or “very low sodium” on the label.

You should also be aware that the salt used in processed foods is rarely, if ever, iodized. In the U.S., iodine started to be added to table salt in 1924 to reduce the risk of goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid gland resulting from iodine deficiency. Adults need about 150 micrograms of iodine a day, and most of it comes naturally from foods: fish, including cod, tuna, shrimp and other types of seafood; dairy products; and breads and cereals. Fruits and vegetables also provide varying amounts of iodine, depending on how much is in the soil where they’re grown. So, with a healthful, balanced diet, it’s likely you don’t need the iodine — much less the sodium — delivered from the saltshaker. A quarter-teaspoon of iodized salt provides 95 micrograms of iodine and nearly 600 milligrams of sodium.

To reduce sodium, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

  • Buy fresh, frozen (no sauce) or no salt added canned vegetables.
  • Use fresh poultry, fish, pork and lean meat rather than canned or processed meats. Check to see if saline or salt solution has been added — if so, choose another brand.
  • Limit your use of sauces, mixes and “instant” products, including flavored rice and ready-made pasta.

For more details, see cdc.gov/salt.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Colleen Spees, registered dietitian and assistant professor with Ohio State University Extension and The Ohio State University’s Division of Medical Dietetics and Health Science.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Be sodium smart with soup, processed foods

chow_060515_468139785Does any canned soup contain just a small amount of sodium? Even the types marked as “healthy” seem to have quite a bit. Do I have to resort to making homemade soup?

You’re right — soups, like many other processed foods — can contain a frightful amount of sodium.

How much is too much? The recommendation is to limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day, or to just 1,500 milligrams if you’re 51 years or older, African-American, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Americans in those categories account for about half of the U.S. population.

Unfortunately, the average sodium intake for Americans is more than 3,400 milligrams a day. Too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Scientists estimate that reducing average sodium consumption by 400 milligrams a day could reduce deaths in the U.S. by 28,000 a year.

It sounds like you’re already reading labels: That is key. Besides looking at Nutrition Facts to find out how many milligrams of sodium there are per serving, also look for these terms and know what they mean:

  • Salt/Sodium-Free: Fewer than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Very Low Sodium: 35 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
  • Low Sodium: 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
  • Reduced Sodium: At least 25 percent less sodium than in the original product. Note that these products often contain more than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Light in Sodium or Lightly Salted: At least 50 percent less sodium than the regular product.
  • No-Salt-Added or Unsalted: No salt is added during processing, but these foods are not necessarily sodium-free. Check the Nutrition Facts Label to be sure.

One reason so much salt is added to processed foods is — you guessed it — flavor. Food manufacturers who try to drastically reduce sodium often find that those products don’t sell.

So, what can you do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Try looking in the organic or health food aisles for canned soup. Those products aren’t always low in sodium, but sometimes they are.
  • Do a web search for “no salt added soup” or “low sodium soup.” You might find brands to buy online that aren’t available at your local store.
  • Water down a favorite soup or broth enough so it reduces the sodium to an acceptable level. You can add back flavor and substance with garlic or other herbs and spices, including salt-free spice blends; fresh or frozen vegetables, such as chopped carrots, peppers and tomatoes; extra noodles or cooked chopped meat or poultry; or even a splash of wine or balsamic vinegar.

If you’re ready to try making soup from homemade stock, the American Heart Association offers ideas for boosting flavor. See them at bit.ly/AHAsoup.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road,
Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, Ohio State University Extension’s food security specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Limiting sodium a good idea for most

156430566My father, who has high blood pressure, has recently started using more salt, saying he has read that it’s not as bad as people think. Can that be right? 

If your father has high blood pressure, he should definitely limit his use of the salt shaker — as should most people. But it’s not hard to figure out where his confusion is probably coming from.

Earlier this year, the Institute of Medicine issued a report examining sodium intake and its relation to cardiovascular disease and death. It found higher levels of sodium are indeed associated with increased health risks. But another finding tended to get more attention: that very low sodium intake might also carry health risks. Your father might have seen those headlines and could very easily have taken them out of context.

However, the debate in nutrition circles really centers on how much most people should reduce sodium intake — not whether they should do so at all.

Most Americans simply don’t realize just how much sodium passes by their lips each day — an estimated 3,400 milligrams a day on average, far above the 2,300 milligrams that the Institute of Medicine would recommend, and more than double the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics take a middle ground, recommending 2,300 milligrams a day, or 1,500 milligrams for people in higher risk groups, including anyone 51 or older, African Americans, or those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 5 percent of Americans limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day, and only 1 percent are able to keep it to 1,500 a day.

Part of the reason is that our taste buds are used to sodium. But much of the sodium we consume doesn’t even come from the salt shaker. It’s hidden in products such as canned foods, processed frozen meals, cold cuts and bacon, cheese, pizza, burgers, soups, snacks and restaurant meals.

Different brands of the same food can vary widely in their sodium content, so it’s important to read Nutrition Facts labels. Encourage your father to keep a tally for a few days. He might be surprised at what he discovers. And, he should know that using herbs and spices instead of salt can add a burst of flavor without needing to use the salt shaker.