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A salty conversation

CHERYL TEVIS 02/14/2011 @ 1:54pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

When the topic of food comes up, Lindsey DeWall knows all too well that the spice of life is not salt. As a registered dietician at the Spencer Hospital in Spencer, Iowa, she says farmers, like many other Americans, fall into a familiar trap.

“Farmers have a lot going on during the busy seasons and often take shortcuts in nutrition that affect their overall health,” she says.

One major health risk linked to diet is hypertension. Salt is a key ingredient associated with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Sodium helps maintain a proper fluid balance and influences muscle contraction and relaxation. But sodium did not become a main staple of the human diet until Americans began relying on prepared and processed foods. In the last 30 years, sodium intake has nearly doubled.

For The Love Of Salt

The recommended adult daily limit of sodium is 2,300 milligrams. Americans consume about 4,000 milligrams per day. (The limit for individuals with high blood pressure is 1,500 milligrams.)

High levels of sodium accumulate in the blood, increasing blood volume. This causes the heart to work harder, increasing pressure in arteries.

In 2007, research involving more than 3,000 borderline hypertensive individuals showed that a 25% reduction in sodium intake resulted in a 30% decrease in cardiovascular disease and a 20% decrease in mortality.

Prepared or processed food contains 77% of dietary sodium. A single cup of canned soup may contain 800 to 900 milligrams of sodium. A half cup of canned corn contains more than 300 milligrams. “Sodium is added to foods today for flavor – not as a preservative,” DeWall says. “It starts to add up.”

Sources Of Sodium

Since the human taste for salt is acquired, it’s reversible. DeWall suggests decreasing salt gradually. “Over time, your taste buds will adjust,” she says.

Food labels are an essential tool. Other sources of sodium in processed or prepared foods include monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, baking powder, sodium nitrate or nitrite, disodium phosphate, and sodium alginate.

Some food companies are slowly reducing sodium. Kraft Foods aims to cut sodium by 10% in two years. PepsiCo, maker of Doritos, has agreed to lower sodium content by 25% within five years.

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