Let’s be honest, how many of us check the sodium content on a food label before we eat? Usually, we are more concerned with the amount of calories, fat, carbohydrates or protein in our food. However, it is essential that we start paying attention to how much sodium we consume. Research has shown that diets high in sodium are associated with high blood pressure which increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. Other side effects of high sodium consumption include increased risk for osteoporosis, bloating and kidney stones.
Your body does need sodium to maintain basic functioning, but only a small amount. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that you consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. That’s only about 1 teaspoon of salt! Unfortunately, the majority of Americans consume nearly twice this amount daily. In fact, in a recent SDSU class, students reported they consumed 4-5 times the recommended intake of sodium per day.
Where is all the sodium coming from?
Most Americans get the majority of their daily sodium, about 75%, from processed and prepared foods. This includes anything from the salad dressing on the side of your healthy salad to a Big Mac with fries.
The following foods are the top sources of sodium in the diet: breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes and snack foods like chips and crackers.
While it is nearly impossible to control the amount of sodium in prepared foods, you can make the better choices to help reduce your sodium intake.
Sodium on Campus- Simple Switches
Sodium is a common ingredient found in many prepared food on SDSU’s campus. While it is convenient to grab a quick lunch on campus, it can also negatively impact your health. However, simple switches can help decrease the amount of sodium in your meal.
• 2 street tacos with steak= 380 mg sodium; 17% Daily Value of Sodium
• 2 Grilled Atlantic Salmon Tacos= 400 mg sodium; 17% Daily Value of Sodium
• Medium Balsamic & Roasted Vegetable Salad with chicken (ask for dressing on the side) = 475 mg sodium; 20% Daily Value of Sodium
• Grilled Chicken Quesadilla= 2340 mg sodium; 102% Daily Value of Sodium
• Chicken Nachos= 2260 mg sodium; 98% Daily Value of Sodium
• Steak Burrito Especial= 1920 mg sodium; 83% Daily Value of Sodium
• Steamed Rice= 0 mg sodium; 0% Daily Value of Sodium
• Sweet & Sour Chicken= 320 mg sodium; 14% daily Value of Sodium
• Side of Mixed Vegetables= 260 mg sodium; 11% Daily Value of Sodium
• Chow Mein = 1060 mg sodium; 46% Daily Value of Sodium
• Orange Chicken= 620 mg sodium; 27% Daily Value of Sodium
• Hot and Sour Soup= 930 mg sodium; 40% Daily Value of Sodium
• Original Hummus with Pita= 520 mg sodium; 23% Daily Value of Sodium
• Side of Tabouli= 230 mg sodium; 10% Daily Value of Sodium
• Lemon Chicken Soup with Pita= 1160 mg sodium; 50% Daily Value of Sodium
• Classic Pita Sandwich= 1025 mg sodium; 45% Daily Value of Sodium
How to Reduce Your Sodium Intake
Our taste buds have been trained to eat salty foods, due to the prevalence of prepared foods. However, you are in control of how much sodium you eat when you cook at home. Each day try to cut back on the amount of salt you add to your foods. Soon you will get used to eating less salt. Instead of flavoring foods with salt, try to use spices and herbs like garlic powder, paprika, basil, thyme and cilantro. If you use canned foods like beans, always rinse them first. Also, if a recipe calls for salt, cut the amount it says to use in half and taste your food before adding more. Always check the sodium content in any sauces or marinades you use.
Since portion sizes have increased tremendously, it’s possible to consume more than the daily amount of sodium in one meal when eating out. However, you can make requests and ask questions to help control the amount of sodium you eat. For example, ask that your dish is prepared without salt and request sauces and dressings on the side. Many restaurants have their nutritional information listed somewhere, so you can request to look at it before deciding what to eat. Keep in mind– there is usually already a significant amount of sodium in restaurant dishes, so try not to use the salt shaker on the table to add any additional sodium.
A few small changes in your grocery shopping habits can make big changes in how much sodium you eat. If there is ever an option for “low sodium” or “no salt added” versions of items you like to buy, choose those first. Canned foods and condiments typically offer these low sodium varieties. If there isn’t a label on the front, simply compare food labels and choose the option with the lower sodium content. Try to buy food with less than 20% of your Daily Value (DV) of sodium. You’ll probably find that different brands vary greatly in their sodium content. Instead of buying chips and crackers for snacks, try buying fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have very minimal sodium and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Your body will thank you! Finally, limit the amount of packaged foods you buy, as they are usually full of sodium to increase their shelf life.
By: Shantille Thompson, MPHc, Graduate Intern, Student Health Services, Health Education & Promotion