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Shrinking salt

Gov’t: Roughly half of nation should cut sodium in diet

February 13, 2011
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

For people looking to reduce the sodium in their diet, they may want to be careful about buying prepared foods.

Christine Marotta, assistant director of food and nutrition services at St. Mary's Hospital in Amsterdam, said some of the products in grocery stores contain a lot of added sodium.

"When [people] go shopping, it can be a challenge to buy products [low in salt]" she said.

Article Photos

A variety of light sodium soups made by Dr. McDougall’s are shown at the Mohawk Harvest?Cooperative Market in Gloversville on Tuesday.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor

In new dietary guidelines recently issued by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments, the U.S. government suggested roughly half the population should cut its daily salt intake.

Specifically, the government suggests people 51 and older, all African-Americans and anyone suffering from hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease to reduce daily sodium intake to little more than half a teaspoon.

Marotta said when people are shopping, they should look for foods that have less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.

People also can reduce the sodium in food they prepare themselves. If possible, they can try to cut it out entirely.

"People can gradually reduce their sodium intake over time," Marotta said. "So little by little, they get used to the taste."

Sandra Baldwin, a registered dietician at Nathan Littauer Hospital, said it is common for people to complain that they like adding salt to their food.

However, she said, a person's taste buds will adapt and get used to less salt in just a couple weeks

By preparing their own meals with less salt, Baldwin said, people also should avoid eating fast food, which can also be heavy on salt.

Marotta suggested that people who want to add flavor to their dishes could try something besides salt. As an example, she said lemon juice can spice up a variety of dishes without adding salt.

Cost, time

Baldwin said a couple of stumbling blocks for some people can be the cost of buying products lower in salt, and lacking the time to prepare proper meals.

So, sometimes people have to make small changes where they can.

"For instance, they could try switching from canned beans to frozen beans," Baldwin said. "They might not be perfect, but they are better for you."

Robert Curtis of Gloversville recently had to change his diet.

Curtis said around the middle of January he was hospitalized for a few days, and was diagnosed with diabetes.

While hospitalized, he met with Baldwin and learned about what he was going to have to change about his diet.

While his main focus has been on cutting down on the carbohydrates in his diet, Curtis said, along with that has come some other stuff.

"By cutting the carbs, I've been cutting out a lot of other stuff too," he said.

Chris Curro, manager of the Mohawk Harvest?Cooperative Market in Gloversville, said the store sells a variety of products that have a low-sodium content. He also noted the store offers people a variety of products that can be included in special diets, such as gluten-free products or organic products.

Several large food companies already have introduced initiatives to cut sodium and introduced low-sodium alternatives, but it's unclear if the industry will be able to cut enough to satisfy the new guidelines. The Food and Drug Administration has said it will pressure companies to take voluntary action before it moves to regulate salt intake.

Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary at the Health and Human Services Department, said food companies will have to make cuts for the reductions to work.

"Even the most motivated consumer can make only a certain amount of progress before it's clear that we need extra support from the food industry," Koh said.

Other recommendations in the guidelines are similar to previous years - limit trans fats, reduce calorie intake from solid fats and added sugars, eat fewer refined grains and more whole grains, consume less than 300 mg per day of cholesterol. The guidelines also recommend eating less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fats - full-fat cheese and fatty meats, for example.

Baldwin said most people would not by hurt by reducing the amount of salt in their diet.

Outside of the groups the government recently targeted, the government continues to recommend most people consume only about a teaspoon a day of sodium - 2,300 milligrams, or about one-third less than the average person usually consumes.

Marotta said her main message to people trying to cut their salt is: Take it slow, read nutrition labels while shopping, and don't be afraid to contact a dietician if you have questions.

"[Cutting salt] can help improve health," she said.

Baldwin said another thing for people to remember is if they have a water softener, they should avoid drinking the water from it.



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