Read the Label: Monitoring Sodium Consumption for a Healthy Life

March 16, 2015

The Georgia Department of Public Health is promoting National Nutrition Month in March as a great time to check your eating habits, especially if you are a person over age 65.

One of the easiest ways to implement healthy eating habits is to measure and monitor your sodium consumption. You may not realize how much sodium you’re eating every day when you take into account that more than 40 percent of sodium comes from just 10 types of food.

Breads and rolls constitute the leading source of sodium, closely followed by other sources including cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, cheese, pasta dishes and snacks.

According to the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, individuals between 51 and 70 years of age should consume no more than 1,300 milligrams of sodium daily. If you are over age 71, it is recommended you consume even less sodium – about 1,200 milligrams daily.                            

The body uses sodium to regulate blood volume and maintain electrochemical balance, but high levels of sodium can incite a number of health problems.

“Sodium is hidden in many of our favorite foods, but it must be carefully monitored as it contributes to a host of chronic illnesses such as hypertension, stroke, kidney disease, congestive heart failure and osteoporosis," said Susanne Koch, MS, ACSM-HFS, PES, DPH worksite wellness coordinator. “Some seniors who have an intake of more than 3 grams of sodium with no physical activity can experience a decrease in brain function or slower ability to think, remember and learn in comparison to seniors who eat less salt.”

Seniors are not the only ones consuming too much sodium. According to the Mayo Clinic, an average American adult consumes far more sodium each day than the body requires. The recommended daily allowance for sodium is 2,300 milligrams per day. African Americans, or those that are pre-hypertensive or hypertensive, should only consume about 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

With thoughtful planning and exercising self-control, there are ways to reduce sodium consumption while still enjoying your favorite foods – whether enjoying a meal at your favorite restaurant or cooking at home.

“Planning ahead can help you find restaurants that have information on sodium levels in the foods they serve,” said Koch. “Don’t be afraid to recommend how to prepare your food with little or no salt or ask for nutritional information. Popular condiments such as mustard and ketchup also contain a large amount of hidden sodium so it’s helpful have them placed on the side of your dish.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), buying fresh, frozen (without sauce), or no salt added canned vegetables can greatly reduce your sodium intake. It is also recommended to cook fresh poultry, fish, pork and lean meat rather than canned or processed meats. When available, purchase low sodium, lower sodium, reduced sodium, or no salt added versions of products. You can also limit the use of sauces, mixes, and “instant” products, including flavored rice and ready-made pasta.

Most importantly, make time to read the labels on the back of products. If the label indicates that saline or salt solution has been added, choose another option.

“Before you make any changes to your food choices, it’s important to check with your primary doctor to ensure you are consuming appropriate amounts of sodium and other nutrients,” said Koch. “We always encourage people to enjoy foods, but make conscious choices so they can also enjoy a healthy body.”

For more information on reducing sodium and how to shop for healthy foods, visit the CDC’s Sodium and Food Sources website. 

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