Sodium puts us at a higher risk for heart disease and elevated blood pressure, and even without a shake here and there, our food is already brimming with it. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams a day, yet the average American eats over 3,000 milligrams a day, according to the AHA. According to Ashley Simper, community and outpatient dietitian at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois, this is one of the most challenging diet recommendations she works with. “Lots of food manufacturers have been making foods more palatable by putting a lot of salt in them, and people are buying a lot of processed foods,” says Simper. In fact, about 77 percent of the salt we consume is already in the prepared foods we eat—it’s not coming from our saltshakers. Plus, people are eating fewer fresh, home-cooked meals and dining out more, which adds up to Americans consuming more than double the amount of sodium that’s recommended. It’s not easy to combat the sodium overload, says Simper, but it can be done. “Fresh is best,” she says. “Shop the perimeter.” The outer edges of the grocery store contain fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat and dairy—all of the fresh items that are vital to a balanced, low-sodium diet. Below, Simper outlines the “Salty Six,” (i.e. six foods that sneak salt into our diets) for Go Red, and offers tips on how to reduce sodium intake.
1. Bread and rolls
Most bread will have 100 to 200 milligrams of sodium per slice. If you’re eating a sandwich, those numbers add up quickly. Read the label and find a whole-grain bread that has less than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving. Also consider switching to whole-grain pita pockets, whole-grain English muffins or whole-grain bagel thins, all of which have fewer than 150 milligrams of sodium. And limit how much bread you eat throughout the day. Two slices should be the maximum.
2. Cold cuts and cured meats
Just six thin slices of deli meat can add up to half of a day’s worth of recommended sodium intake. Ham is a particularly high offender, and there’s no close alternative.. If you do indulge in lunch meats, find a low-sodium variety, but be sure to read the labels; even those cold cuts marketed as low-sodium may run high. One viable alternative is to substitute hummus, egg whites, veggies or low sodium tuna, as alternate sandwich options.
Pizza brings together a melting pot of high-sodium ingredients: cheese, pepperoni, sausage, tomato sauce and crust. Lessen the blow by choosing an olive oil sauce instead of tomato, ask them to go light on the cheese and opt for veggie toppings instead of meat. Limit yourself to two small slices, and have a salad or steamed vegetable to round out the meal.
This one can be sneaky. What looks like a natural fresh or frozen piece of chicken could actually be injected with broth or sodium solution preservatives that boost sodium content up to 200 milligrams per serving. Read the label, and if has anything other than “chicken,” look for another brand. Even fresh poultry will have some inherent sodium. When purchasing chicken, avoid any prepared or processed products, which are packed with seasonings and sodium and are often fried. Consider fresh fish to bake or grill as another low-sodium alternative.
Many prepared soups are a hidden bunker of salt. You can easily blow an entire day’s worth of your allotted sodium intake just by eating a single serving which often measures in at 600 to 1,000 milligrams per serving (with two servings per can). It helps to choose a lower-sodium variety, but even those can score 400-plus milligrams per cup. Homemade soups (ones made without store-bought broth or bullion) are an option, but for those people who are used to high-sodium soups, the transition may seem flavorless and bland but with time your taste buds will adjust.
Burgers and sandwiches are another hidden trove of salt, particularly if the meal is coming from a restaurant. It’s extremely challenging to follow a low-sodium diet if you dine out, particularly if you eat at fast food spots, where a single sandwich can contain a day’s worth of sodium. One way to lower sodium content is to request the burger or sandwich grilled and not fried, without cheese and with the condiments on the side (BBQ sauce and ketchup, in particular, add sodium and sugar). A better way to go is to share a sandwich and order a fresh side, such as a salad, fruit or low fat yogurt. Try using the American Heart Association’s Sodium Tracker to keep track of your daily sodium intake. Learn how to navigate fast food menus to minimize sodium intake when you’re on the go. Check out the infographic on “The Salty Six” and learn more ways to change your salty ways on Go Red For Women.
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