Opinion

Start now to become salt wise | Timi Gustafson

The typical American diet contains way too much salt, according to clinical studies recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This is not exactly news, however, the negative consequences for our health from the widespread overuse of salt in our food are more evident than ever before.

The bulk of our salt intake, however, does not primarily come from excessive usage of salt in the kitchen or at the dinner table, but rather from the fact that almost 80 percent of our salt intake is derived from processed foods.

Breads, processed and canned meats and vegetables as well as soups, sauces and many spices contain high amounts of salt. More surprisingly, many medications and vitamin supplements also contain elevated levels of sodium.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends to keep our daily salt consumption at a maximum of 2,300 milligrams of sodium, roughly the equivalent of a teaspoon of salt, depending on health status and age. That’s far below the 4,160 milligrams most Americans eat on average every day.

Limiting the use of dietary salt in our food supply through educational as well as regulatory efforts, even if only to a modest degree, could potentially make a significant difference in the fight against coronary heart disease and hypertension. Foreseeable benefits are not only measurable in terms of saved lives, but also in terms of actionable preventive measures to reduce health care costs.

As always, there is resistance to be counted on. Manufacturers will claim that new regulations are either not feasible or too expensive. However, have you noticed how many food items now post big “NO TRANS FATS” signs on their labels? That too was rejected as an unreasonable burden only a short time ago.

We don’t have to wait for others to take action. Before you buy, take a moment to read carefully the Nutrition Facts labels on your packaged foods, and then pick the brands with the lowest sodium content. This way, you can influence both business and public policy right now, and even more so in the future.

Timi Gustafson is the author of “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.” Find more tips for a healthy lifestyle in her book which is available at local bookstores, at www.amazon.com and at her blog. Visit timigustafson.com to read many more Glad You Asked™ Q+A sessions and post your own questions, comments and suggestions.

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