Be aware of how much salt is in your diet

Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist

March 11, 2014

World Salt Awareness Week is being observed all over the world March 24 through March 29 which includes Newberry County. This week Newberry Notes will focus on the issue “Salt and Your Health.” We aim to highlight the public to the risks involved with a high salt diet and the importance of looking at labels to ensure high salt foods are not consumed.

Many people are aware that salt can damage their health, but do not know it is linked to serious health conditions such as stroke and heart failure. The Centers for Disease Control warns there are hidden sources of salt in foods you might not expect to be salty, and the salt content of similar items can vary widely. There is also increasing evidence supporting links between our current high salt diets and the onset of stomach cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, kidney stones and kidney disease.

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health advises: “Look out for salt (sodium) in foods you buy — it all adds up. Use food labels to help you make better choices. Most packaged foods have Nutrition Facts label and an ingredients list. Sodium which is listed on Nutrition Facts panel is the component of salt that raises blood pressure. For a healthier you, use this tool to make smart choices easily. Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals — and choose the foods with lower numbers. Add spices or herbs to season food without adding salt.”

Did you know that eating too much salt increases blood pressure? Most of the salt in your diet comes from foods that might not even taste salty, such as breads, meats, and dairy products. The salt shaker is not the main issue—almost 80% of salt is already in the food you buy, particularly in processed and restaurant foods.

Salt is hidden in foods you might not expect to be salty. And the salt content of similar items can vary widely. Read nutrition and menu labels to compare sodium levels. (Sodium, which is listed on the Nutrition Facts panel, is the component of salt that raises blood pressure.) Blood pressure can respond to lower sodium intake within weeks.

Small changes can make a big difference in how much salt you eat. The SC Department of Health suggests these practical steps you and your family can take to reduce your salt intake:

• Know your recommended limit for daily sodium intake. Most Americans should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams per day.

• Read Nutrition Facts panel on the food you buy, and choose products that are low in sodium.

• Ask for foods at restaurants with no or low salt, and your grocer about providing products that are low in sodium. The words salt and sodium are not exactly the same, yet these words are often used in place of each other. For example, the Nutrition Facts panel uses “sodium” whereas the front of the package may say “low salt.” A major component of salt is made up of sodium and chloride.

Did you know that on average, most Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day! That is more than double the recommended amount for most people. Current dietary guidelines recommend that adults in general should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. At the same time, consume potassium-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Only a small portion of salt is used during cooking or at the table, and the rest occurs naturally in foods.

Canned vegetables such as green beans, corn and tomatoes have more salt per serving than fresh or frozen vegetables. Choose foods with “no salt added.” A muffin may contain more salt than a bag of potato chips! Salt is hidden in foods including salad dressing, cheeses, pasta sauces, breads, tomato juices, and condiments. Salt is classified as “empty calories,” food that offers no nutritional value.

Most Americans should consume less sodium. Nearly everyone benefits and can help prevent, or control, high blood pressure. Read nutrition and menu labels to compare sodium levels. It’s not the use of table salt that’s harming American’s health; instead, it’s the salt loaded into packaged foods and restaurant meals.

What you eat and drink and your level of activity are important to stay healthy and enjoy life. The South Carolina Department of Health promotes and protects the health of the public.