A key to healthy eating is choosing foods lower in salt and sodium. Most Americans consume more salt than they need. Many people frequently eat meals on-the-go and do very little cooking from scratch, making it difficult to control the amount of sodium in their diets. As a result our taste buds have grown accustomed to a higher level of salt than is needed for good health. In fact, some scientists believe that some of us are almost "addicted" to the pleasurable effect of salt.
Salt is made of sodium and chloride. Sodium is an essential ingredient for life. However, we only need a small amount.
The current recommendation is to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. That equals 1 teaspoon of table salt a day, including that used in cooking and at the table.
For persons 40+ years, African American, or those who have hypertension, it is suggested that sodium intake be limited to 1,500 mg of sodium.
About 10 percent of the total salt we eat occurs naturally in our food. five-10 percent we add as we prepare and eat food, leaving about 75-80 percent of the sodium being added in one form or another by the commercial food industry and restaurants.
Commercially prepared foods such as tomato sauce, soups, canned foods, prepared mixes, deli meats, and salad dressings are often very high in sodium. Even breads and crackers can have considerable amounts of hidden sodium.
Check the Nutrition Facts Panel on processed foods. Look for the percent Daily Value. Foods that are listed as 5 percent or less sodium are low in sodium. 6 percent -- 20 percent are moderate and those above 20 percent are high. When choosing processed foods, select low sodium choices if possible, and flavor with spices or other low sodium foods.
A challenge can come when eating in a restaurant. However, times are changing and by voicing your preference for lower sodium foods when you eat out, you may begin to see healthier foods on the menus in your favorite restaurants.
Some tips for reducing sodium in your diet are:
* Eat highly processed foods less often -- especially salty chips; cured meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and luncheon meats' canned entrees, like chili and ravioli; and many soups.
* Buy fresh, plain frozen, or canned "with no salt added" vegetables.
* Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned or processed types.
* Use herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table.
* Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt. Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes, which usually have added salt.
* Choose "convenience" foods that are lower in sodium. Cut back on frozen dinners, pizza, packaged mixes, broths, and salad dressings.
* Rinse canned foods, such as tuna and beans, to remove some sodium.
* When available, buy low- or reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added versions of foods.
* Choose ready-to-eat breakfast cereals that are lower in sodium.
* At a restaurant, ask for salad dressing and other sauces on the side, and only use a small amount on your food.
* Instead of onion salt, use onion powder or replace garlic salt with fresh garlic.
* Limit the amount of brined or pickled foods.
* Use only a sprinkling of flavoring packets instead of the entire packet.
* Fill up on foods naturally low in sodium. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and cooked dry beans and lentils.
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or email@example.com.