Salt in your diet

Thursday, February 22, 2007
Photo illustration by Diane L. Wilson

While health officials recommend limiting your salt intake to one teaspoon per day, the American Heart Association estimates the average American consumes up to three teaspoons of salt daily. Local dietitians say the salt shaker on the dinner table isn't where we consume most of our sodium -- it's in prepacked meals and snacks.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 77 percent of the sodium in most Americans' diets comes from prepackaged meals.

"We're a very convenient population that uses the prepackaged foods," said Raina Childers, a dietitian at Southeast Missouri Hospital's HealthPoint Plaza.

Janet Anders, a dietitian at Saint Francis Medical Center's Health and Wellness Center, said healthy adults should limit themselves to 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day. Adults with high blood pressure or heart disease should limit themselves to 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day.

"Salt is in a lot of what we consume, so it's easy to add up very quickly," she said.

Certain prepackaged foods like macaroni and cheese contains up to 2,820 milligrams of sodium in one box. Canned soups, lunch meats and microwaveable dinners are also high in sodium.

"If something is extremely high in sodium, you should probably limit yourself to only one high sodium meal a day," Anders said.

Salt isn't bad for us, in fact it's something our bodies need, Childers said. "It maintains the electrolyte balance in our bodies," she said.

But too much sodium can be damaging.

Anders said sodium causes the body to retain fluid. In order to pump that fluid, the heart is forced to work harder than usual. This can be dangerous to people with heart conditions, she said.

"If you take in a lot of salt, you can feel bloated," she said. "People who continually eat high-sodium foods can experience heart disease in the future, or experience high blood pressure."

So how can you reduce your sodium intake?

* Rinse off canned vegetables and put them in fresh water before cooking them.

* Instead of salting food, use salt substitutes or fresh herbs for extra taste.

* Increase the amount of fresh foods in your diet.

* Take the salt shaker off the dinner table.

Childers said once people, who she likes to call "salters," quit consuming so much sodium, they're surprised at how different food tastes.

"It allows their taste buds to do their jobs," she said.

jfreeze@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: