Changing packaged foods
As mentioned earlier, maintaining a low sodium intake is relatively easy if you prepare all of your own food from fresh ingredients. However, that is easier said than done, so it is fortunate that there have been some recent initiatives from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other organizations urging (and perhaps soon requiring) food manufacturers to reduce the amount of added sodium in packaged foods.
Many large food corporations are already starting to comply. For example, Heinz announced in early 2010 that it was changing its ketchup recipe for the first time in 40 years, reducing the sodium content by 15%, from 190 to 160 mg per tablespoon. It’s worth noting that 160 mg is still 6% of the Daily Value for sodium, so even this new recipe does not meet the standard definition of a low-sodium food, and many people use more than one tablespoon of ketchup at a time. However, this is a step in the right direction to help consumers have more control over the amount of sodium in their diets without giving up all convenience foods or eating at restaurants.
Small change, big impact
A study published in February 2010 in The New England Journal of Medicine estimates that if all Americans cut their sodium intake by 1200 mg (the amount in about half a teaspoon of salt) per day, it would have a similar or greater impact on coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke than if half of all smokers quit or all obese adults reduced their body-mass index by 5%. Perhaps most compelling, the study predicts that this change would be equally as powerful as using blood pressure medicines for reducing deaths from hypertension, and it would remove the risk of side effects from antihypertensives, as well.
What is also interesting about these numbers is that removing 1200 mg of sodium daily from the average diet would still not bring sodium intake levels down to the current recommendations, but it would do a great deal of good. That means that replacing just half a teaspoon of the table salt you add to foods with a sodium-free salt substitute can have a meaningful effect on your health. To maximize that effect, also select packaged foods with as little added sodium as possible. While very-low-sodium diets are difficult to maintain, making these modest yet effective reductions can be relatively simple.