Mom was right again—we need to eat more fruit (and veggies)! Earlier this summer, the US Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines to reduce the amount of salt used in processed foods. That’s because as a country, we are eating too much sodium! In fact, Americans eat about 1½ teaspoons of salt each day—that’s 3,400 milligrams of sodium. Why does this matter? Because excess dietary sodium is not heart healthy—it has been linked to high blood pressure which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The new guidelines recommend that we reduce dietary sodium to 1 teaspoon or less (that’s 2,300 mg of sodium/day).
The good news is that many food companies have already started to lower sodium levels in their products. And look for restaurants to make changes too. As a matter of fact, New York City recently took the lead. Their chain restaurants now post a salt shaker icon next to menu items that contain more than the daily recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams of salt. Now that’s some great point-of-purchase nutrition education!
As consumers, we also need to do our part by becoming more food sodium savvy. Typically, my clients believe that most of the sodium we eat comes via the salt shaker. Not so! We actually get the majority of our sodium from highly processed foods like bacon, lunch meat, fries, savory snacks, pizza, soups, pasta sauces, and some baked goods.
It’s worth taking the time to check food labels for sodium content because you’ll learn that the level in the same type of food can vary significantly. Take bread, for example. Sodium in a slice of white bread can range from 80 milligrams to 230 milligrams. The three ounces of deli turkey meat to go with the bread can have 450 milligrams to 1,050 milligrams. This goes to show that the brand of food item you choose can be the difference between lowering your intake or getting more sodium than you bargained for!
The pie chart shows the percentage of sodium in the diet of the U.S. population that comes from different food categories. How do your personal food choices compare to these averages?
As shown in the pie chart, the Fruits and Fruit Juice Category does not contribute to sodium intake. This means that one of the best ways to decrease sodium intake and improve nutrient intake is not only to eat less high sodium foods, but to focus on eating more fresh and dried fruit as well. For example, the following fruits are categorized as very low sodium (35 milligrams or less per reference amount): dried apricots, dried figs, melons, grapes, papaya and raisins. Other fruits, categorized as sodium free, include apples, banana, berries, cherries, kiwi, pear, peach, nectarine, watermelon and oranges.
With a renewed interest in lowering American’s sodium intake comes yet another reason to eat raisins. In addition to being a nutrition powerhouse, they’re naturally low in sodium. And, along with other fresh and dried fruit, have the additional health benefits of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. An apple (or a handful of raisins a day), may actually really help to keep the heart doctor away!