Food bulletin - According to the most recent government dietary intake analysis, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), pizza was the single biggest contributor of sodium to young American diets, from 2003-2008.
The authors of a study that extrapolated this information from the NHANES, Dr. Adam Drewnowski and Dr. Colin Rehm, found that pizza accounted for 10.3% of sodium intake among 12-19 year olds. Pizza was also only second to soda and sports drinks, in terms of providing the most calories to the daily diets of teens ages 12-19. So pizza gets the double whammy award for being high in calories and high in sodium. Consumption of pizza may be contributing to serious ongoing public health concerns, since current sodium intake levels appear to raise the risk of “silent heart disease” or high blood pressure, and America’s obesity trends are permeating all age groups. It’s also important to note that a food that becomes entrenched in the diet of a child or teen, is going to be a food for life, and if it’s high calorie, high sodium, it can be considered a food risk factor for weight gain and high blood pressure.
We now know that manufactured bread has one of the highest sodium counts, and it’s also a food that many people struggle to limit. We typically target calorie-laden drinks as a challenge to America’s waistline. Experts suggest that we also need to focus on foods that are a source of too many calories and high sodium as particularly worrisome, especially if we begin to love them in our younger years, or if they simply become staples of our diets when we’re young. These researchers may be on to something, because many of the foods that are high in sodium, and staples of the typical America diet, are also high in calories and resistant to portion control. Those foods include: Pizza, pastas, grain-based desserts, cereals (which we typically pour with abandon into a bowl), cheeses, manufactured or creamy restaurant soups, dressings and marinades (which we tend to pour and not measure by the spoonful), crackers and chips and many dips.
People turn to low carbohydrate plans because they know that without refined grain-based foods in their diet, they will lose weight quickly. That habit may also lead to better blood pressure readings because they lose weight and because they avoid a whole food group that is associated with lots of salt. Problem is, most people are unable to sustain the diet because life and temptation get in the way. Eat out at a restaurant or go to a dinner party or hang in the office cafeteria and you will be surrounded by the very food you are trying to avoid. Willpower will only take you so far. And when you fall off the wagon, you will typically dive back into consumption of carbohydrates, with almost no ability to control portions. It’s called a binge, and it typically follows a rigorous diet that cuts out an entire food group.
When it comes to the sodium issue, the answer may lie in cutting the amount of salt used in processing or using salt alternatives that don’t affect taste, but do allow sodium reduction. The calorie conundrum is a bit harder to navigate. A recent perspective on whole milk versus fat free milk suggests that kids who drink skim or 1% milk may not be as satiated, compared to the filling feeling provided by whole milk, and they will therefore consume more calories, often times more of the cookies that come with the milk snack. So it’s not clear cut that simply cutting calories, by cutting fat in a food, will reduce overall calorie load and your weight. You may need to be more sophisticated in planning your diet, by balancing calorie reduction with increased levels of fiber, water content and even healthy fats, so you remain satiated while reducing calories. Successful dieting and sustained weight loss appear to be very complicated processes, which is why success rates for long term sustained weight loss are currently dismal. Have you kept off your weight for more than five years?? Share your story with us!
Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch? Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103. Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.