Heart Health: Food label reading to limit sodium intake

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February is American Heart Month, and for this week's blog, I want to focus on the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle to protect our heart. I would like to mainly focus on blood pressure and methods to limit salt intake.

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure risk is increased due to age, gender, race, and environmental factors. Sure, most of the above are uncontrollable, however, environmental factors are something we can control- which include eating a healthy diet and having regular physical activity.

Having elevated blood pressure is a concern because it can increase the risk of a stroke, a heart attack, and elevate lipid levels; leaving devastating effects on our bodies, and could even result in death. As a Dietitian, one of my main goals is to reduce the risk of high blood pressure by focusing on lowering the intake of sodium which is found in salt. I have several patients that tell me that when they go out to eat they cannot taste salt in their foods, but when we look at the food label there are elevated levels in the product they ate. It is shocking how a high amount of salt might not have a strong taste.

How much sodium do we need?

Children between 1-8 years need about 1000-1200 mg sodium per day.

Children above 9 years & adults need about 1500mg, with a maximum of 2300mg per day.


What can we do to prevent high sodium intake? 

  1. Make more homemade meals, as this is where you can control the amount of sodium that is placed in your food.

    • When following recipes reduce the amount of salt it asks for by half.

    • Processed foods contain sodium as a method to preserve the shelf life of food.

  2. Snack on fruit, veggie sticks, or low-fat yogurt instead of chips, or cookies.

  3. Use herbs, spices, garlic, citric items, and/or chopped vegetables instead of salt in recipes, so that the food still contains flavor without increasing sodium intake.

  4. When comparing 2 like products at the store, select the item showing the least sodium on the food label. 


Reading the food label

When reading the food label start by reading the 'serving size', this is important to know because the grams/milligrams presented from calories to protein are what is in that specific serving size. A shocking note is that the serving sizes are typically smaller than expected. Now for this blog, I would like to focus on specifically sodium. When looking at sodium, I look to make sure that 1 serving sodium is less than 140mg.


Let's take a look at a few examples below.

Cheese Snack
  • I took the time to actually count out 55 snack pieces. About half of the carton is 1 portion, which fit in both of my hands. I think it could be pretty easy to eat the entire package in one sitting if we were mindlessly eating. For one portion, there does look to be more sodium than we would like. What you can do here is perhaps get one handful, thus cutting the sodium intake in half. 

 

Hot Chips (bag size is 8.5oz)

This one may be the hardest for people to limit. The 21 chips are about 1 handful, I have many pediatric patients that actually eat this entire bag in one sitting. Consuming one entire bag is the equivalent to 2,125 mg of sodium. That would be 2 days worth of sodium if the child were less than 8 years old. A shocking note is that sometimes this is a snack, meaning they will still eat their regular 3 meals/day on top of this. One big tip here is to not buy chips to have in the home because if someone sees the bag in the house, it's going to be one of the first things that will get eaten.

Canned Soup

I don't know about you, but I usually eat the entire can of soup if I decided to have it. Here we would need to multiply everything by 2. One cup alone already has an immense amount of sodium, now when multiplied by two, we get 1,380 mg in one can! What you can do in this case is serve your self 1 cup of this canned soup, then dilute with 1 cup of water. You could also drain the broth once the can is opened then add water to the top of the can. The best advise here would to be to make your own soup for the week, to prevent this situation. 

 

Remember this is all about preventative care. Taking care of your body now before any health concerns may arise in the future. The above are just three examples of foods we can modify in portion sizes to reduce the intake of sodium. Now it's your turn, go into your pantry and take a look at some products you have in there. Let us know the most shocking products you can find in your panty. 

 

 

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