Salt II

Most of the salt we eat comes from processed food liked canned and “instant” soup, sauces and salad dressing, canned fish, frozen foods, noodle and macaroni mixes and the all-time kosher kitchen favorite, dried soup powder. (Here in Israel, a television ad features a soldier returning home unexpectedly during the night. Thanks to a popular brand of soup powder, his mother is able to prepare a delicious meal for him while he’s in the shower!) Kosher meat (which, of course has been salted) is another source of sodium that most of us don’t think about. More obvious salty foods are crackers, pretzels, pickles, deli meat, salted nuts and olives.

I recently received a sample packet of tomato rice soup. The nutritional claim was “more than 50% vegetables”. That’s a great pitch to dietitians. But each serving had 510 mg of sodium!

Then there are surprises. Like breakfast cereal. Who would guess that some brands of corn flakes and raisin bran have over 300 mg of sodium per cup? Here’s another breakfast surprise – one serving of frozen waffles has 420 mg of sodium! Bread, muffins and cookies may also come loaded with sodium that we barely even taste. Who thinks of salt in cake mixes? One serving of yellow cake made from a mix contains 310 mg of sodium. Did I mention bourekas?

How much salt should you get each day?

The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg or less of sodium each day to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s way down from their previous recommendation of no more than 2,300 mg. With many of us getting between 2,000 and 5,000 mg of sodium daily, that’s a big adjustment.

How much sodium is in salt?

One teaspoon of salt contains just over 2,300 mg of sodium. That’s one reason to keep the salt shaker off of the kitchen table. Use salt sparingly while cooking and rely on herbs and spices instead to lend more flavor to your cooking.

What else can you do?

The best thing you can do is to cook your own food. The more cooking you do, the more control you’ll have over how much salt you get. And the fewer processed foods you eat, the less salt (and sugar and fat!) you’ll end up eating. When you’re shopping for cereal and convenience foods like pasta sauce, check nutrition labels for sodium and choose brands with the least amount. Skip the powdered soup mix and make your own simple stock. Since kosher meat has enough salt in it already, use pepper, herbs and spices to season your meat and poultry.

Besides salt, hypertension can be lowered with weight loss and a high intake of fruits and vegetables.

Are governments doing anything?

In the US, New York City has taken the lead, with its “National Salt Reduction Initiative” (See my previous blog.) The United Kingdom is working with industry to reduce sodium in processed food by 10% over the next five years. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Finland have all launched initiatives to help reduce the salt in their food. Here in Israel, the Health Ministry is working with industry to gradually reduce the amount of salt in processed food.

Government intervention may force the food industry to re-formulate processed foods using less salt. That should certainly help. But it’s still up to each of us to choose our food wisely.

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Salt I

Once again, New York City is making nutrition news. First it was a city-wide ban on trans fat. Now they’re trying to get us to eat less salt.

New York’s “National Salt Reduction Initiative” aims to reduce the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant food by 25% over the next five years – a lofty goal, especially since food industry giants have been fighting cuts in salt usage for years.

According to food companies, reducing salt in processed food by 10% is easy enough. But removing more than that is harder. Why? Salt enhances flavor. Take away a lot of the salt and your favorite convenience food just doesn’t taste right. If you add flavor with fresh herbs, spices and higher quality ingredients, the cost goes up and sales plummet.

Years ago, food producers removed sugar and fat from processed food. It was a “win-win” situation – consumers were eager for foods that promised weight loss and industry profited from sales. But since low-salt versions of our favorite foods don’t offer anything as glamorous as weight loss, they’re not as likely to be such a hit at the grocery store. With less profit for manufacturers, there’s less incentive to jump on the low-salt wagon.

Here’s the hard sell: Cutting back on salt affects something that can’t be seen – blood pressure. We know that too much sodium (the problematic component of salt) can cause high blood pressure (hypertension) in some people. Although genes, age and medical condition play a role, it’s estimated that 70% of Americans are salt-sensitive – they are susceptible to hypertension if they ingest too much salt. High blood pressure, known as a “silent killer”, increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. In the US, it’s estimated that 150,000 lives could be saved each year if people were to lower their blood pressure. And cutting back on sodium could help.

Most of us need less than 1 gram of sodium a day. Since we’re now getting between 2 and 5 grams, it seems reasonable to cut back, especially if it could save lives.

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Chana Rubin, RD

Food for the Soul

Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating
By Chana Rubin, RD

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