Don’t Salt Away Your Health

HYANNIS – Doctors have cautioned patients about the dangers of too much salt for years, but the warning isn’t having a big effect on behavior. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 90 percent of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended.

One of the biggest problems is that salt is hidden in so many foods. Even if you never add any additional salt from a shaker, you might be getting a lot more sodium than you need.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams (mg) of salt a day. The FDA has set a goal to help consumers lower their sodium to the recommended 2,300 mg by releasing a draft of guidelines to help the food industry voluntarily reduce sodium levels in processed and prepared foods.

The FDA draft has a two-year and 10-year target for the reduction of sodium. The two-year target is to reduce sodium intake from 3,400 to 3,000 mg per day, a number that cardiologist Lawrence McAuliffe, MD, of Cape Cod Healthcare Cardiovascular Center said is realistic.

“The initial goal of getting from 3,330 mg to 3,000 mg a day ought to be a simple thing for most people,” he said. “Getting down to 2,300 is going to be a challenge” for many people.

The Consequences

The biggest danger of ingesting too much salt is that it raises blood pressure. The CDC estimates that one-third of all Americans have high blood pressure and only half have it under control.

“When you raise blood pressure, it increases muscle thickness in blood vessel walls,” Dr. McAuliffe said. “That creates hypertension and that effect is systematic throughout our bodies. Eventually it affects the organs and manifests with stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.”

Since there is so much hidden salt in our food, Dr. McAuliffe advises patients to never add additional salt at the table or even while cooking. He recommends replacing salt with herbs and spices to provide extra flavor. His second tip is to switch from processed or prepared foods to organic fresh foods. He also recommends that patients read labels and become familiar with what the numbers mean.

With that in mind, Cape Cod Health News went to the grocery store to read the nutrition labels on several prepared and processed foods, and find out just how much sodium they contain.

Surprising Sources

You might not expect prepared meatballs to register on the salt danger radar. But, in the fresh meat section, Carando’s Abruzzese Recipe Italian Style Meatballs contain 710 mg of sodium for each serving of three fairly small meatballs. Add in 480 mg for 1/2 cup of Ragu Original sauce and you are halfway to your recommended daily consumption.

A Greek salad with spaghetti and meatballs could be enough to push you over the top for your daily salt intake quota. Feta cheese has 320 mg of sodium per ounce and six Mediterranean Organic Kalamata Olives have 224 mg.

Toss that salad with two tablespoons of Ken’s Steak House Lite Caesar Dressing with 550 mg of sodium and your seemingly healthy side salad has added a total of 1,094 mg of salt to your dinner.

Ham is widely known to be salty. Prepackaged Oscar Mayer Delifresh Honey Ham contains 560 mg of sodium in every 2 ounces. But most people would probably be surprised to learn that the same amount of Oscar Mayer Delifresh Oven Roasted Turkey has nearly the same amount of salt – 540 mg. Two ounces of turkey amounts to two very thin slices, and the average sandwich usually includes more.

Bread is a surprise on the salt list, but is typically quite high in salt. With that in mind, let’s examine how a turkey sandwich adds up. Two slices of Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Sourdough bread contain 440 mg of sodium. If you add four slices of turkey, you add 1,080 mg. Add one tablespoon of Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise (90 mg), a slice of Sargento Provolone Cheese (135 mg) and two slices of Claussen Hearty Garlic Deli Style Sandwich Slices (320 mg) and your total sodium intake for one sandwich is 2,065 mg.

If you add 12 Doritos Spicy Nacho Chips (190 mg) and two Keebler Chips Deluxe Cookies (105), then the typical contents of a lunchbox are 60 mg over the FDA guidelines for the whole day.

Canned foods are extremely high in sodium. One cup of Progresso Chicken Cheese Enchilada Flavor Soup has 890 mg of sodium. Even the “healthier” Progresso Reduced Salt Creamy Tomato with Basil Soup contains 480 mg of sodium, which is 150 mg more than a serving of bacon.

Sometimes products fool you. It might not be surprising to learn that Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is high in salt. One cup contains 480 mg of sodium. But, Annie’s Homegrown Organic Shells & Real Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese has even more sodium at 570 mg.

Conventional wisdom says that shopping the perimeter of a grocery store is a healthier way to buy food, but now those sections are full of prepared fresh food that appeal to those in a hurry. These foods are packaged to look healthy, but 1/2 cup of Cedar’s Black Bean Salad has 540 mg of sodium. A single serving size of Blue Moose of Boulder “Handcrafted” Hummus and Multigrain Chips pack 400 mg – for a snack.

The freezer aisle is rife with salty foods. It would be easy to assume French fries are one of the worst offenders, but Ore Ida Steak Fries weigh in with 290 mg for a portion of seven. Compare that to one Hot Pockets Beef Taco flavor at 640 or Mama Rosie’s Cheese Lasagna at 680 mg.

One slice of DiGiorno Supreme frozen pizza contains 840 mg of sodium. How many people actually eat just one slice of pizza? Even the healthy sounding Open Nature Thin Crust Roasted Vegetable Pizza contains 410 mg of sodium per slice.

The biggest sodium offender in the frozen food aisle was the Hungry Man Country Fried Chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, green beans and an apple dessert. It came in at a whopping 1,670 mg of sodium. That is 72 percent of the daily recommended amount of salt.

By LAURIE HIGGINS, Cape Cod Health News

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