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A salty conversation

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.

Restaurant chains contribute
to the problem. “If you eat out, you’re doubling your salt and sodium,” DeWall
says.

A new FDA law is requiring
improved nutritional labels on chain menus. Denny’s has cut salt levels by 20%
to 25% in many menu items. Burger King is limiting salt in all kids’ meals.
Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell have reformulated items with lower salt.

New research reveals that
reducing salt is a greater challenge for certain individuals who are more
sensitive to sodium. A University of Pennsylvania College of Agricultural
Sciences study last year in Physiology & Behavior shows that supertasters
experience taste more intensely and consume more salt than nontasters.

DeWall suggests these six
tips to cut the amount of sodium in your diet.

1. Eat more fresh foods and
fewer processed foods. “Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally lower in
sodium,” DeWall says. Fresh meat is lower in sodium than luncheon meat, bacon,
hot dogs, sausage, and ham.

2. Opt for low-sodium
products. Select processed foods with less than 140 milligrams per serving.

3. Remove salt from recipes.
You can leave out the salt in casseroles, stews, and many other main dishes.
Baked goods are an exception.

4. Limit use of sodium-laden
condiments. This includes salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, mustard, and
relish.

5. Use herbs, spices, and
other flavorings to enhance foods. “Learn how to use fresh or dried herbs and
spices to flavor your meals,” DeWall says.

6. Use salt substitutes
wisely. “Check with your doctor,” she says.  

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