Now that you know a little more about what sodium does in the body and how much to aim for each day (see "Shaking the Salt [Part 1]"), the next step is knowing where sodium is found. It stands to reason that, if you just cut out (or cut back on) high-sodium foods, you’d be all set, right? Easier said than done.
It may seem like the most obvious place to start “shaking the salt” is with the salt shaker. And while that’s a good idea, adding salt to foods with the salt shaker isn’t really the culprit. About three-quarters of our sodium intake comes from processed foods, such as canned foods, cold cuts, and packaged products. The rest of it comes from adding salt or other salt-laden condiments (soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, etc.) to our foods during cooking or at the dinner table.
Coincidently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently mulling over whether or not to intervene on the sodium issue. While many health organizations and public health agencies have, for years, urged the FDA to take a stronger stand against the addition of so much sodium to our foods, food manufacturers have rallied against government intervention, claiming that sodium is needed for both food preservation and flavor. However, the FDA is perhaps finally beginning to see the light about the health risks of too much sodium. Sodium is now listed as a “GRAS” (generally recognized as safe) ingredient—but that could soon change.
It’s very possible that the FDA will begin to crack down on how much sodium can be added to processed foods. If medical expert testimony can convince the FDA to “shake the salt,” so to speak, with statistics such as “reducing sodium intake by 50% could save 150,000 lives annually,” we may be seeing a drop in the sodium content of processed and packaged foods.
Let’s take a closer look at the sodium content of some typical foods that you may be eating on a regular basis. You may be surprised at how much (or how little) some of your favorite foods contain! Remember that one teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium—pretty much the sodium limit for the day. As a reference, a food is considered to be “low sodium” if it contains no more than 140 mg sodium per serving.
- 1 medium tomato: 10 mg
- 6 ounces tomato juice: 570 mg
- 1 medium celery stalk: 32 mg
- 1 cup cream of celery soup: 1,900 mg
- ½ cup packaged stuffing: 400 mg
- ½ cup cooked brown rice: 20 mg
- 1 cup Cheerios: 190 mg
- 1 cup Kashi GOLEAN: 85 mg
- 1 SUBWAY 6-inch Double Meat Italian BMT: 2,850 mg
- 1 McDonald’s Quarter Pounder: 730 mg
Shocked? Dismayed? This list could go on and on!
Next week, we’ll talk about ways to help you truly “shake” some of that salt from your diet. Between now and then, your homework assignment is to read the labels of the foods you eat (if they have labels) for sodium. For foods that don’t have a label, check out CalorieKing or the USDA’s Nutrient Database.
How are you doing at keeping your sodium intake under 2,300 mg per day? What can you do to reduce your sodium intake if you need to?