Nutrition Connection: The Food Processing and Sodium Connection
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(reprinted from Dietary Manager, April 2012)
It is widely known that excess sodium intake is not good for your health. Diets with too much sodium can increase your risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. Yet, Americans continue to eat more sodium than their body needs and more than is recommended—and it’s about to get even worse…or is it?
The just-released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg, and further reducing intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older, and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults. Keep in mind that 1 teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium.
So how do you decrease sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day when you are consuming much more? In the 2010 Food & Health Survey of Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition, & Health by the International Food Information Council Foundation, it’s noted that, “More than half of Americans (53 percent) are concerned with the amount of sodium in their diets. Six in 10 Americans regularly purchase reduced/lower sodium foods; the most cited items include canned soup (58 percent), snacks (48 percent), and canned vegetables (41 percent).”
Processed foods are defined as any food that has any deliberate change that occurs before it’s available for us to eat. It can be as simple as freezing or drying food to preserve nutrients and freshness, or as complex as formulating a frozen meal with the right balance of nutrients and ingredients. Examples of processed foods include: canned and frozen fruits and vegetables; packaged foods labeled “natural” or “organic” such as cereals, and fresh meat and poultry; food with health and nutrition claims on the label, such as “may reduce risk of heart disease;” foods fortified with nutrients such as fiber and vitamin D; and foods prepared in quick-service and fine dining restaurants.
Food processors are working to reduce the sodium content in their foods. Many have developed reduced-sodium or “no added salt” versions of products such as soups, chips, instant rice and potato mixes, taco and chili spice mixes, and canned vegetables.
Kraft Foods plans to reduce sodium in North American products an average of 10 percent by 2012, and will eliminate more than 10 million pounds of salt—that’s more than 750 million teaspoons! The company’s goals call for sodium to be lowered in a number of products by up to 20 percent by the end of 2012. Oscar Mayer Bologna is slated to reduce sodium by 17 percent. Since 2008, all Oscar Mayer white turkey deli meat products have been reduced by at least 15 percent; Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh Chicken Breast Strips have been reduced by 20 percent; two Kraft Light Dressings have been reduced by more than 30 percent; and Original and reduced fat Wheat Thins have been reduced by 10 percent. Kraft Foods already offers lower sodium alternatives to consumers with more than 100 products that are either low, reduced, or no sodium.
By 2015, Nestle Prepared Foods Company plans to decrease sodium by another 10 percent from reductions made earlier this decade. This includes Stouffer’s®, Lean Cuisine®, Buitoni®, Hot Pockets®, and Lean Pockets®. Nestle has made reductions to the sodium content gradually in many foods since consumer research has consistently shown that consumers often associate sodium reduction with reduced flavor. Lean Cuisine® sodium levels have gone from an average of 1,000 mg to 606 mg since they were introduced in 1981.
Some processors are using sea salt to reduce sodium levels. If you are measuring the salt in a teaspoon, sea salt has less sodium than table salt. If you are weighing the salt on a scale, the amount of sodium will be very similar. Sea salt is made up of larger, more irregular-shaped particles than table salt. Therefore, you would have fewer grains of salt in your teaspoon when using sea salt and therefore less sodium. Sodium is found in many ingredients besides salt. All types of salt, including onion salt and garlic salt, contain sodium and should be limited.
People who eat foods high in sodium often eat fewer potassium-containing foods. Potassium is lost and sodium is gained as foods become more processed. This causes the potassium-to-sodium ratio to fall dramatically. Even when potassium is not lost, additional sodium still lowers the potassium to sodium ratio. The richest sources of potassium are fresh foods of all kinds—especially fruits and vegetables.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans offers these strategies to reduce sodium:
- Use the nutrition Facts label to choose foods lower in sodium.
- When purchasing canned foods, select those labeled as “reduced sodium,” “low sodium,” or “no added salt.” Rinse regular canned vegetables to remove some sodium. Many packaged foods contain more sodium than their made-from-fresh counterparts.
- Use little or no salt when cooking or eating. Trade in your salt shaker for the pepper shaker. Spices, herbs, and lemon juice can be used as alternatives to salt to season foods with a variety of flavors.
- Gradually reduce the amount of sodium in your foods. Your taste for salt will change over time.
- Get more potassium in your diet. Food sources of potassium include potatoes, cantaloupe, bananas, beans, and yogurt.
If processors can reduce sodium levels in their products by 10 percent, we need to do our part and work to reduce the sodium in our diets from other sources so our intake is not more than 2,300 mg per day. Knowing our heart health is at risk may help us break the salt habit.
|Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)||Sometimes used to leaven breads and cakes; sometimes added to vegetables in cooking; used as alkalizer for indigestion|
|Baking powder||Used to leaven quick breads and cakes|
|Disodium phosphate||Found in some quick cooking cereals and processed cheeses|
|Monosodium glutamate or MSG||A seasoning used in home, hotel, and restaurant cooking, and in many packaged, canned and frozen foods|
|Salt (sodium chloride)||Used in cooking or at the table; used in canning and preserving|
|Sodium alginate||Used in many chocolate milks and ice creams to make a smooth mixture|
|Sodium benzoate||Used as a preservative in many condiments such as rlishes, sauces and salad dressings|
|Sodium hydroxide||Used in food processing to soften and loosen skins of ripe olives and certain fruits and vegetables|
|Sodium nitrate||Used in cured meats and sausages|
|Sodium propionate||Used in pasteurized cheeses and in some breads and cakes to inhibit growth of molds|
|Sodium sulfite||Used to bleach certain fruits such as maraschino cherries and glazed or crystallized fruits that are to be artificially colored; also used as a preservative in some dried fruits such as prunes|
- “Packaged Food Gets a Make-Over: Better Fat, Less Salt, Lower Sugar” session presented at the 2010 ADA Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo
- International Food Information Council Foundation
- American Heart Association brochure, Shaking Your Salt Habit: Our Guide to Reducing Sodium to Lower Your Blood Pressure
- 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
By Linda S. Eck Mills, MBA, RD, LDN, FADA
Linda S. Eck Mills, MBA, RD, LDN, FADA is a professional speaker, a career and life coach, and author of the book From Mundane to Ah Ha! Effective Training Objects. Mills directs the DMA Program at Lehigh Carbon Community College (Schnecksville, PA), and works in correctional food service. Contact her at Linda@cycomserv.com or www.dycomserv.com