Just like too much sugar in the American diet, salt is omnipresent in our foods—and it’s killing us. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that reducing sodium consumption by half would save an estimated 150,000 lives per year. And that in turn would reduce medical care and other costs by roughly $1.5 trillion over 20 years.
I’ll pepper—not salt—this blog with a few more numbers, so stay with me here. First: 90 percent of the sodium we eat comes in the form of salt. And in a report released this week from another more prominent center, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 90 percent of us are eating too much salt.
According to CSPI, most of us consume approximately 4,000 milligrams daily, twice what we need: CDC says we eat 3,300 milligrams, but in either case, it’s too much. And almost 80 percent of our sodium is in—you guessed it—processed foods, and foods we consume away from home. Only 6 percent is added at the table and only 5 percent during cooking.
In due process
We continue to hear about “processed foods.” Our Mind Your Body interviews with registered dietician Ashley Koff taught us that each year more than 10,000 processed foods come to market, further tempting us to go astray.
Thousands of packaged foods provide us one-fourth or more of a day’s maximum recommended intake. If we don’t “count,” we cross the line into dangerous territory, for the “risk list” from too much salt is long and deadly:
- high blood pressure
- which then leads to heart attacks
- congestive heart failure
- kidney disease
The CDC found that more than 40 percent of sodium comes from 10 types of foods, some quite surprising. Bread and rolls lead the charge, followed by other culprits: cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, cheese, poultry (injected when it’s raw), soups and sandwiches, pasta dishes, mixed meat dishes and crispy snacks like popcorn and chips—which seem to “scream” sodium, but as we see, aren’t the main offenders.
“People can choose how much salt to add at the table. They can’t choose to take it out once it’s there,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden.
What you can do
- Don’t pick up the salt shaker: But you knew that.
- Fresh rules—fresh anything—especially fresh fruits and vegetables—they don’t come with labels reading “sodium.”
- Read every label: Even many breakfast cereals have not only sugar but sodium.
- In fact, you’ll be surprised at how many foods have sodium.
- Make your own foods, like soups. Buy low-sodium broth as a base. Buy anything labeled “low sodium” or “reduced sodium” or “no salt added” when you can.
- Buy anything organic when it’s in your budget.
- Use spices: They’re a world unto their own and can really turn on your tastebuds.
- Think about the things you can make that will mean you don’t buy them processed: cookies, popcorn, your own sodium-free bread—have fun becoming the chef you knew you were.
An educated consumer is a healthier consumer: That’s you!
(Photo courtesy: © Scott Karcich | Dreamstime.com)