Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pass on the salt, please.



We all know what February 14 is, but do you know that February is Heart month?  While February 14 is all about taking care of your loved ones heart with romantic dinners and  red roses and dark chocolate, every other day in February should be about taking care of your heart.  "How?" you ask.  Here's how:  by putting healthy foods in your body or better yet, leaving unhealthy foods out.  No not vodka or tequila...I'm talking about salt.  Salt is the main source of sodium for most people, and sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, a major cause of heart disease and stroke. 

In honor of American Heart Month, the February edition of CDC Vital Signs focuses on the amount of sodium in Americans' diets and what we can do to reduce it.  90% of Americans get too much sodium in their diet.  No surprise there.  What may come as a surprise is that according to the CDC only 10 foods account for over 40% of the sodium in our diet and the bigger surprise is that bread and rolls top the list. 
"Breads and rolls aren't really saltier than many of the other foods, but people tend to eat a lot of them", said Mary Cogswell, a CDC senior scientist who co-authored the report.

According to the CDC report (based on surveys of more than 7,200 people in 2007 and 2008, including nearly 3,000 children) more than 40% of sodium comes from the following 10 types of foods: breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats such as deli or packaged ham or turkey, pizza, fresh and processed poultry, soups, sandwiches such as cheeseburgers, cheese, pasta dishes (not including mac and cheese), meat mixed dishes such as meat loaf with tomato sauce, and snacks such as chips, pretzels, and popcorn.
  
Health officials say most get too much salt, mostly from processed and restaurant foods - not added from the salt shaker.  "People can choose how much salt to add to their food at the table. They can't take it out once it's there," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said.

So what can you do?  There are many thing, but one of the most important, is to read labels.  Check the nutrition facts label on processed food products.  Different brands of the same foods may have different sodium levels.  A slice of bread can vary from 80 mg to 230 mg, while chicken noodle soup can vary as much as 830 mg. 


Look for hidden sources of sodium in recipes.  I worked on healthy recipe development project this past year and was stunned when I read the nutrition facts for seasoned bread crumbs.  1/4 cup of seasoned bread crumbs contained over 400 mg of sodium.  Just think about how many bread crumbs you use when making meat loaf, or breading chicken.  By simply making the switch to plain, no sodium or even Panko bread crumbs,  you're doing your heart a big favor.

Of course you should try to cook more from scratch, avoid processed foods when possible and eat lots of fruits and veggies.   It really comes back to the same thing when we talk about diet.  Get educated and make smart choices.  Your heart will love you for it.

For more information on sodium in your diet, check out CDC VitalSigns February 2012.

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