Experts at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently urged the Food and Drug Administration to set new standards for sodium (a.k.a. table salt) intake. According to Walter Willett, MD, DPh, chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, the evidence is clear that reducing sodium intake is a priority for public health.

Sodium can aggravate heart and kidney conditions as it can lead to fluid retention, thus putting more stress on the heart. It has also been linked with an increase in high blood pressure and heart disease. High blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, one in three American adults has high blood pressure.

The average daily sodium intake for Americans is around 3400mg. Many in the medical community recommend 2300 mg per day, which is equivalent to one teaspoon. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests striving for 1500 mg per day. Making the switch to reducing sodium intake does not usually pose any initial health risk. It does, however take time to acclimate to the difference in taste for many accustomed to using the salt shaker regularly.

The majority of sodium consumed (around 75%) in the American diet comes from processed foods. Food manufacturers add sodium to foods not only for flavor, but for preservative purposes as well. Some bacteria can thrive in a moist environment and sodium draws moisture out of foods, thus assisting in the preserving of food products. Most people use table salt as a seasoning agent. Table salt is a mixture of sodium (40%) and chloride (60%).

Sodium is an essential electrolyte. Sodium, along with potassium, calcium and magnesium plays a role in fluid balance, nerve transmission, and cardiac muscle function.
Here are a few tips to help ease the transition:

-Become a label hawk. Many frozen meals, canned soups, deli soups, dry soups, snacks, and deli meats are loaded with sodium. Some manufacturers have developed lower sodium alternatives. If it’s a frozen or prepared meal, look for products that contain 500-700 mg sodium total per serving to aim for the daily recommended intake (1500-2300 mg). Keep in mind some medications contain sodium as well. Over the counter medications with more than 5 mg sodium per serving will state the sodium content on the label. Ask your pharmacist about the sodium content of any prescription medications.

-Strive to consume more potassium containing foods to offset the sodium containing foods. Simply put, potassium containing foods can help reduce the sodium load. Potassium is found in fresh fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, citrus, kiwi, berries, plums/dried plums, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens, broccoli, etc. Dairy products, legumes, and unprocessed meats, poultry and seafood are also good sources of potassium.

-Go for the least processed as possible. Look for fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables without any added salt (or sugar). Many canned vegetables and beans now have low sodium or reduced sodium alternatives at the same price.

-Save some cash and make your own seasoning blends. You don’t have to cut out sodium completely, just cut back. Use herb and spice blends for meats, vegetables, soups, salads and starches. Many herbs and spices contain potent antioxidant benefits in addition to flavor. Make a marinade with the blends and use vinegar or lemon/lime juice with some olive or canola oil vs. buying the processed stuff. Check with your healthcare provider about using certain seasonings (such as ginger, turmeric) as they may interfere with some medications.

-Cook your own meats vs. buying prepared. It is easy to do and can be done in a short period of time. If you prepare foods on the weekend for the upcoming week, prepare your meats in bulk and with your own seasoning blends. Bake them in the oven while other chores are being done. If time is crunch, buy chicken breasts, smaller portions of meat, or cut large roasts into smaller portions to reduce the cooking time.

Author's Bio: 

Susan M. Piergeorge, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian. She also possesses a Professional Culinary Certificate. She has a passion of for food, nutrition and health. Her book, Boomer Be Well will be published in 2010. For more information go to www.boomerbewell.com