Hidden Sodium

By Charlyn Fargo

December 14, 2018 7 min read

Everybody has sodium in their diet; it's a fact of life. Sodium is an essential nutrient. Some of us, however, may be getting too much. Often, we aren't even aware of where it's hiding in the foods we're eating.

Less than 30 percent of the average American's daily intake comes from adding salt to food at the table, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of sodium in our diets is delivered by salt in processed and ready-to-eat foods.

A number of studies show that decreasing sodium intake can lower blood pressure, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day can have the additional impact of lowering blood pressure — especially when combined with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, eating plan, a fruit and vegetable-centered diet that is lower in sodium and fat. Good sources of potassium — an important mineral of the DASH diet that has been shown to help decrease blood pressure — include potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, apricots, beans, milk, yogurt, some fish and pork.

Sodium isn't only in salty snacks or the table shaker. Much of the already-prepared food from restaurants and cafes — and grab-and-go items from grocery stores — have sodium, as it's an effective and inexpensive way to add flavor and preserve foods. Even foods with low-to-moderate sodium content can lead to a high-sodium diet if you consume too much of them.

Topping the list for highest percentage of our daily sodium consumption are items such as bread, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, fresh and processed poultry, soups, sandwiches (including burgers), cheese and pasta.

The best way to combat high sodium in your daily diet is to watch your intake of highly processed foods. Read the nutrition facts and look for the "daily value" of sodium in the foods you eat.

Here are some ways to lower sodium intake:

—Get more natural sources of potassium in your diet by including lean sources of protein, low-fat or fat-free dairy and additional servings of fruits and vegetables. Good sources of potassium include bananas, fat-free milk, cooked kidney beans, haddock, dates, baked potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, roasted and/or skinless turkey, almonds, raw spinach and boiled okra.

—Watch portion sizes, especially when it comes to already prepared foods.

—Limit cured foods, including cold cuts and sausages.

—Rinse canned foods or look for no-salt-added varieties.

—Choose lower-sodium packaged foods.

—Remove the saltshaker from the table.

—Increase your intake of whole grains with foods such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, bulgur and whole-wheat pasta, bread, wild rice and popcorn.

—Include beans, peas and more plant-based sources of protein.

—Substitute crackers and chips with a small amount of unsalted nuts.

Q and A

Q: My spouse keeps telling me I eat too quickly. Is this really a concern?

A: Gulping food and drink can potentially cause you to swallow air, which may lead to gassiness, but the biggest concern is really the risk for overeating. It takes about 15 minutes for the body's "full" hormone to reach our brain and tell us to stop eating. If you eat quickly, it could be possible to overeat before your body has time to tell you it's full. Additionally, eating quickly may be related to behaviors that tend to promote obesity, such as eating while doing other things or on the go — practices that often detach you from thinking about what you're eating, increasing risk for poor decision-making and overeating. While there has been limited research done on this topic, one observational study of diabetic patients in Japan found associations between eating more slowly and a lower likelihood of becoming obese. Because this was an observational study, no cause-and-effect claims can be made to indicate that eating faster will cause negative health effects, and further research is needed. Still, slowing down and focusing on what you're eating will help promote healthier eating behaviors and will allow you adequate time to feel full. Take the time to listen to your body and truly enjoy your meal.

Information courtesy of Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.


Brussels sprouts seem to be all the rage right now. Here's a healthy recipe for the holidays! It's from Diabetic Living magazine.


1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved if large

2 eggs

2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs, preferably whole wheat

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Cooking spray

1 cup prepared marinara sauce, optional

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a large pot fitted with a steamer basket. Add Brussels sprouts, cover and steam until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and pat dry. Lightly beat eggs in a shallow dish. Stir panko, Parmesan, garlic powder, salt and pepper in another shallow dish. Roll each sprout in egg to coat completely. Allow excess to drip off, and then roll in the panko mixture to coat completely. Place the sprouts on the prepared baking pan with space between them. Coat the sprouts lightly with cooking spray. Bake, turning once, until golden brown and tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping, if desired. Serves 8.

Per serving (1/2 cup each): 80 calories; 5 grams protein; 10 grams carbohydrate; 2 grams fat; 49 milligrams cholesterol; 3 grams fiber; 245 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRd. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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