Last week, the Food and Drug Association (FDA) issued a voluntary recommendation (at this time), urging the food industry and restaurants to reduce sodium (salt) in their food products, with the intention to improve nutrition of Americans and reduce the burden of disease.
Despite past warnings from the FDA to reduce sodium intake to help reduce the risk of hypertension and heart disease, the average intake of this mineral in the U.S. is about 3,400 milligrams (mg) each day. The FDA stated that by encouraging food manufacturers to comply with their recommendation, hundreds of thousands of American lives could be saved along with billions spent in annual health care costs.
The federal dietary guidelines currently advise people to limit their sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg a day and the American Heart Association recommends only up to 1,500 mg per day.
The FDA’s goal over the next two and a half years is to cut average sodium intake from 3,400 to 3,000 milligrams a day which is still significantly higher than their current recommendation of 2,300 a day. Here are examples of what foods you’d have to eat to equal approximately 2,300 milligrams of sodium: Two slices of pizza or 20 chicken nuggets or two tablespoons of soy sauce.
One reason for the new FDA recommendation is a result of the pandemic. The majority of people, who either developed severe Covid-19 complications or died from it, already had established major health issues such as cardiovascular disease. A common risk factor for heart disease is consuming too much sodium in our diet.
They also pointed to the fact that countless people are relying heavily on fast foods and packaged foods for daily meals or snacks, all very high in salt, sugar, and fat.
The FDA is counting on the cooperation of the food industry to gradually phase out more sodium so consumers will not notice a big change as the amount of salt is decreased over time. It is believed by the FDA, that these modest reductions made slowly over the next two years, will show substantial reductions in cardiovascular diseases and other diet-related medical conditions.
What foods contain too much sodium that Americans are eating?
While the mineral sodium is a necessary nutrient with various purposes in the human body, excessive amounts can lead to chronic diseases, especially hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.
But what foods is the excessive sodium intake coming from?
For decades, the food industry has relied on using high amounts of sodium for two main reasons: To preserve and increase product shelf life and to increase palatability of a food. Both reasons encourage us as consumers to frequently eat and regularly purchase these foods, at the expense of our health.
Surprisingly, the main source of sodium of Americans is not from using the salt shaker at the dinner table. The majority of sodium (around 70%) comes from the following highly processed foods:
- Deli meats and deli sandwiches
- Burritos and tacos
- Savory snacks like chips and microwave popcorn
- Pasta dishes
- Burgers and fries
- Fast food and other restaurants such as Asian cuisine
How to reduce sodium while still keeping foods tasty and flavorful
The trick to cutting back on sodium is managing the flavor of food. Luckily, the following tips not only reduce sodium intake but still enhance a foods’ flavor to its finest without risking your heart health:
- Rinse canned beans, vegetables, and tuna before using to remove up to 40% of sodium
- Eat more fresh foods naturally low in sodium like fruits and vegetables
- Prepare your own food when you can rather than relying on prepackaged, prepared, instant or restaurant food
- Don’t add salt to the water when cooking pasta, rice, or other grains
- Try other flavor enhancers such as fresh herbs, spices, citrus juice, or vinegar
- Use baking powder made with potassium bicarbonate instead of sodium bicarbonate
- Marinate chicken breasts or pork chops in lemon juice, orange juice, or wine
- Roll fish in sesame seeds before baking
- Spice up beef with a mixture of onion, pepper, sage, and thyme
- Simmer carrots in cinnamon and nutmeg
- Sprinkle some dill and parsley onto potatoes before roasting
- Add a dash of chili powder to corn
- Toss your pasta with fresh chopped garlic
- If cooking with cheese, opt for fresh mozzarella or cheese marked “low-sodium.”
- Replace salted butter with unsalted butter
- Try to avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving
- Choose low-sodium products. Swap snacks like chips and pretzels with nuts without added salt, carrots or celery. Swap bottle dressings instead using olive oil and red wine or balsamic vinegar to salads.
- Beware of condiments high in sodium – ketchup, BBQ sauce, and soy sauce