Sodium is a mineral that is found in salt. Called the leading preventable risk factor for death world-wide, you might wonder whether we need sodium at all? Despite all that we hear about sodium in the news, our bodies do need sodium to control blood pressure and to help with muscle and nerve function.
Adults (31y-50y) should aim to have less than 1500 mg/day (this is the amount of sodium found in 2/3 tsp of table salt). Children need even less sodium. The average Canadian gets in over twice this amount in sodium. Getting too much sodium in our diets. And that’s a problem because too much sodium can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. So what’s so shocking?
A study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health looked at the sodium levels of over 9000 food items from 65 fast-food restaurants and 20 sit-down restaurants. The group of Canadian researchers found that the sodium levels in Canadian fast-food and sit-down restaurants is extremely high. Here is a snap shot of their findings:
Many of the above numbers do not represent the sodium values for an entire meal, meaning that our sodium intake from foods eaten at a restaurant are likely to be even higher!
A small amount of sodium is naturally found in our foods. A major source of sodium in our diets is sodium chloride, or common table salt.
We get sodium through adding table salt, flavoured salts, flavor enhancers and preservatives added during food processing. In fact, 77% of dietary sodium is found in processed and restaurant foods (Scourboutakos et al 2013). This is why there is so much attention on sodium – many Canadians eat out. It is estimated that ~25% of Canadians eat something prepared in a fast-food outlet; and an added 21% eat something made in a sit-down restaurant, cafeteria or other food venue.
Sodium adds flavor and helps preserve food. It is found in processed meats, cheese, sauces, pickled foods, condiments and commercial pasta mixes. It is also found in foods that don’t necessarily taste salty – breads, cereals, some canned foods.
Taste is not always a good indicator of how “salty” something is. Have a look at the sodium content of the foods below and see what surprises you.
Salt (includes table salt, Kosher, sea salt and pickling salt) = 1720 – 2373 mg in 1 tsp
Sip the all-or-nothing approach to the foods – ie – I should never eat canned tomatoes, or, I should never eat soy sauce. If the bulk of the foods you choose are higher in sodium, there are some simple substitutions you can make to lower your sodium intake. Here are a few tips to get you started:
When eating out:
When you are over 40 years old, and think about your lifestyle in middle age, you have lots of habits – both good and bad. Habit change starts with awareness of where we are right now. If you would like to do a self-assessment of the sodium in your diet and lifestyle, take this free quiz.
1) Scourboutakos M, Abbe MRL. Sodium Levels in Canaian Fast-food and Sit-Down Restaurants. Canadian Journal of Public Health. 2013. Volume 104(1): e2-e8. Available from http://journal.cpha.ca/index.php/cjph/article/view/3683
2) Dietitians of Canada. Food Sources of Sodium. Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition. Available from http://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=674&trid=17898&trcatid=467