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January 9th, 2013

Reducing your sodium intake in the new year

It’s January, which means there are canned food sales at all the major supermarkets. Canned food, while convenient and inexpensive, can be high in sodium, according to the American Heart Association. Canned soup, for example, is listed among the AHA’s "Salty Six," common foods that may be loaded with excess sodium that can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

The AHA wants Americans to reduce sodium intake during a three week period to change their "sodium palate" and start enjoying foods with less sodium. Starting January 7th, the AHA’s Facebook page will host the 21-day Sodium Swap Challenge, offering simple tips and recipes to reduce your sodium intake.

Sodium overload is a major health problem in the United States. The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day – more than twice the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. More than 75 percent of our sodium consumption comes from processed and restaurant foods.

If Americans cut their average sodium intake by more than half – to an average of 1,500 milligrams a day – it’s estimated there would be a nearly 26 percent decrease in high blood pressure and a savings of more than $26 billion in healthcare costs over just a year (American Journal of Health Promotion. Sept/Oct 2009).

In some people, sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, creating an added burden on the heart. Too much sodium in the diet may also have other harmful health effects, including increased risk for stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.

And this problem is starting early in America: 97 percent of children and adolescents eat too much salt, putting them at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases as they get older.

Tips for Reducing Sodium in your Diet:

• Read the Nutrition Facts label to compare and find foods lower in sodium. You’ll be surprised to find that even foods in the same category have different amounts of sodium!

• Choose fresh fruits and vegetables when possible.

• Limit the amount of processed foods you eat and your portion size.

• Avoid adding salt when cooking and/or eating.

• Instead of using salt, learn to use spices and herbs to enhance the taste of your food. Most spices naturally contain very small amounts of sodium, but read the label to be sure.

• Add fresh lemon juice instead of salt to your fish and vegetables dishes.

• Specify how you want your food prepared when dining out. Ask your server if it is possible to have your food prepared without salt.

• Take control of what’s in your food by cooking more at home.

• Choose foods that are high in potassium. They counter the effects of sodium in your body and may help lower your blood pressure.

Canned products are a part of any household pantry. But the AHA recommends making smart choices when it comes to processed foods.

Best Choices for Canned Foods:

• Fruit in water or light syrup - great for packing your children’s lunchboxes

• Tuna or salmon packed in water – the AHA recommends two servings of fish per week

• Low-sodium soups

• Low-sodium broths for making healthier homemade meals like soups

• Low- or No-salt veggies

• Low-sodium beans - these can be a great and easy low-fat source of protein

• Heart-Check Mark items - meet AHA standards for sodium levels

For more info on sodium, visit Products that are certified by the Heart-Check Food Certification Program meet nutritional criteria for heart-healthy foods and can help keep you on track during your challenge.

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