A new Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report released this week is an all-out assault on salt. It outlines the importance for essentially all of us to slash our sodium by half, and outlines strategies to help us get there, including urging the Food and Drug Administration to take aggressive steps with the food industry to set limits that processed foods should meet. Similar programs have taken place in the U.K. and have been successful.
In the U.S., we currently eat some 3,400 mg sodium per day or nearly twice the recommended limit of 2,300 mg per day (equal to 5.8 g/d salt or about 1 teaspoon salt) for healthy adults. For those with hypertension, older Americans and other higher-risk individuals, the limit would be 1,500 mg per day.
Since sodium is pervasive in the food and water supply, there is no concern of not meeting the Adequate Intake levels. However, excess sodium is a major public health threat. Sodium and hypertension have been referred to as the “two silent killers” among Americans. Too much sodium is a contributor to hypertension, a form of heart disease that affects one in three adults—75 million people aged 20 or older. In fact our lifetime risk for developing hypertension is 90% likely.
Sources of Sodium in Our Diet
Three-fourths of the sodium in the US diet is from processed foods eaten at home or restaurant, take-out food. Salt added during cooking or at the table are much smaller portions of the total sodium intake. Only about five percent of the sodium is from that added with the saltshaker. The major food contributors included mixed-food meals (44%) which includes sandwiches, burgers, pizza, Mexican dishes and pasta dishes; 16% of the sodium is from meat and meat alternatives; 11% from grains; 9% from vegetables; 5 percent from sweets, 4% fats and oils; 3% milk, 3% salty snacks and 2% from condiment and beverages.
To reduce your sodium intake, eat more natural, minimally processed foods. Relying less on take-out, restaurant and prepared foods is the easiest way to get your sodium in check. Check the food labels for sodium content and try to minimize foods that provide 10% or more of the Daily Value for sodium. Use the FDA-approved criteria below to help guide your choices. When using canned beans or other vegetables, rinse them first, as that will reduce the sodium significantly. Also, the nutrient antidote to sodium is potassium. Potassium can be found primarily in fruits, vegetables, including tomatoes, citrus, leafy greens and bananas. Dairy products, beans and nuts and are also great sources of potassium-rich and lower-sodium options.
FDA Sodium Food Label Guidelines
Sodium Free= < 5 mg per serving
Low Sodium < 140 mg per serving
Reduced or Less Sodium > 25% less than standard reference food
Healthy < 480 mg per serving