Nearly half of adult Americans have high blood pressure, with many not even realizing they do. Several factors contribute to these levels, with a higher than recommended intake of sodium being one that leads the pack. In an effort to help curb sodium intake, in October 2021, the FDA lowered targets for sodium in processed, packaged, and prepared foods. While the amount decreased, it is still above the recommended amount, with the goal being to slowly reduce sodium intake over a period of 2.5 years.
In the United States, the average consumption of sodium is around 3,400 milligrams a day. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg per day, but recommends an “ideal limit” of 1,500 mg per day. The new FDA targets seek to decrease average sodium intake from approximately 3,400 milligrams (mg) to 3,000 mg per day, about a 12% reduction. While the new FDA recommendation is still double that of the “ideal limit,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock and FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition director Susan Mayne explained in a statement, “. . .we know that even these modest reductions—made slowly over the next few years—will substantially decrease diet-related diseases, make for a healthier population overall and lower the burden of health care costs in this country.” While the new FDA recommendations are above the ideal amount, the American Heart Association also supports the reduction, stating that even a 1,000mg reduction can significantly improve blood pressure and heart health.
How does sodium impact the body?
Sodium helps the body in a variety of ways, including maintaining a balance of water and minerals, helps muscles relax and contract, and helps conduct nerve impulses. But, the amount needed to help these processes is very little, and the amount Americans consume, roughly 1.5 teaspoons per day, is far more than is required (roughly 500mg). Some issues that may result from prolonged, excess sodium intake include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Calcium losses (which can increase risk of osteoporosis)
In addition to increased risk of these issues, there is evidence that excessive sodium intake may also contribute to oxidative stress, which is when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Oxidative stress has been linked to damaged proteins, cells, and DNA, and may increase the risk of diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
How to lower sodium intake
According to the American Heart Association, 70% of Americans consume processed foods, many of which are packed with sodium and contribute to the hypertension levels in the U.S. When choosing foods, consider these tips to help lower sodium intake:
- Eat fresh, whole foods. We’ve shared the importance of incorporating whole foods into your diet. They provide essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, have been found to help maintain a variety of functions (blood sugar, blood pressure, digestion), and can help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
- Choose packaged and prepared foods carefully. Compare labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium (per serving) you can find in your store. It is common for different brands to have different levels of ingredients, so look closely.
- Be selective with your toppings. Condiments are notorious for being loaded with sodium. While they are convenient, making items like marinades, dips, sauces, etc. at home can greatly reduce the sodium you consume. We guarantee that it is easier to do than it may seem- and they also taste better when made fresh. The best part? You can pick exactly what goes into what you make, allowing you to fine tune flavors to your liking as well as cut back on sodium. If you aren’t up to the task, choose items with the lowest sodium levels you can find at the store.
- Incorporate other ingredients for flavor. Once you start using items like onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegars to flavor foods, you might find that your delicious creations only need a pinch of salt to tie it all together.
- Mind how you prep canned foods. Rinse canned beans and vegetables. The American Heart Association shares that this alone can cut the sodium by up to 40 percent.
- Try different cooking methods. Grilling, braising, roasting, searing and sautéing all bring out natural flavors.
- When eating out, don’t be afraid to ask for help. At restaurants, your server is going to be your biggest helper in cutting back on sodium. If the menu doesn’t offer information on what foods may be lower sodium, ask your server for guidance based on how the foods are prepped. Ask for no salt to be added. Or, order a half portion if there isn’t information- that way even if the sodium levels are on the higher side, you don’t consume a whole serving.
- Taste before you season. For many, it is a habit to sprinkle salt on their food before even taking a taste. Try what’s in front of you first and savor the flavors. If you find that salt is needed, add a bit at a time so you don’t go overboard.
On Wednesday, we’ll share easy recipes for marinades, dips, dressings, and other low-sodium ways to add flavor to your food!