Earlier this week, I was at the grocery store and stopped by the pasta section. I like to keep a few jars of marinara sauce in the pantry for nights that I really don’t want to cook for Dad and me, but don’t want to bring in from restaurants. I always have to read the nutritional labels closely since Dad has high blood pressure. Perusing the impressive section of brands, I was amazed to see how high the salt levels are in some of these offerings. Not surprisingly, it’s these levels of sodium in prepared foods as well as restaurant servings that have health officials concerned. And as I mentioned in a 2008 sharepost on HealthCentral’s Alzheimer’s site, some research links high blood pressure to Alzheimer’s disease. So I’m worried about overall salt intake not only for my dad’s sake, but also for my own since dementia has stricken several on my mother’s side of the family.
This week, U.S. health officials have released new guidelines encouraging people who are 51 and older, all African-Americans, and anyone suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease to limit the amount of sodium eaten daily to approximately half a teaspoon. “That group includes about half of the population and those who are at risk of having higher blood pressure due to the amount of salt they eat,” the Associated Press reported. “For everyone else, the government continues to recommend about a teaspoon a day – 2,300 milligrams, or about one-third less than the average person usually consumes.”
Recommendations to help reduce sodium intake include:
- Limit salt when cooking. I rarely add salt, instead letting each person make that decision when they are eating.)
- Read nutrition labels. Beware because some items that you think will be low sodium will surprise you.
- Shop the outside aisles of the grocery store where the fresh produce, meats/seafood, poultry, and other items are that are not processed.
- Avoid processed foods, which are often found in the interior aisles of the supermarkets. (I try to avoid these as often as possible, but obviously, I have had to make a few forays into these areas to get marinara and canned soup.)
- Try to reduce sodium intake slowly over time so your taste buds can get used to eating foods with less salt.
Several food companies, including Kraft Foods, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Heinz, Campbell Soup and Bumble Bee Foods have agreed to lower sodium levels. However, the decline in salt levels in food will be staged in over a multi-year period so that consumers will not notice the difference in taste.
It’s also important to realize that restaurant meals also can be laden with sodium. As I noted in 2008, Matt Zinczenk and Matt Goulding published an article in Men’s Health entitled, “20 Saltiest Foods in America”. They reported that at that time, some seemingly healthy-sounding meals were laden with salt, ranging from 2,780 milligrams to a whopping 7,300 milligrams of sodium. Their story and requirements enacted by some state and city governments seem to have made a difference. Whereas Romano’s Macaroni Grill offered a Chicken Portobello dish with a total of 7,300 milligrams of sodium in 2008, a review of Romano’s current nutritional chart finds that the sodium level of the current menu has dropped significantly with only a few offerings over 2,000 milligrams. However, Chili’s (which has dropped its Guiltless Gourmet Grill Chicken Platter, which was cited by Zinczenko and Goulding for 2,780 milligrams of sodium) still has a Guiltless Gourmet Classic Sirloin with 3,680 milligrams of sodium, a Boneless Buffalo Chicken Salad with 4,330 milligrams, and many entrees well over the recommended allotment.
It’s good to see the progress that some companies have made in lowering sodium levels in the food that they offer consumers, and I’m thankful that more is coming. Still, it’s important to take ownership by reading nutritional labels and checking sodium levels of restaurant foods before ordering. And perhaps the surest way to control sodium is by cooking your own meals. Consider it one of the best Valentine presents that you can give to all of those family members and friends you love so well. Their hearts will thank you!
Published On: February 02, 2011