Sodium is essential in small amounts, but the human body does not require as much salt as many people think. The average American consumes around 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily. Although one teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 mg of sodium, the majority of sodium eaten by Americans comes from processed foods, such as deli meats and canned, frozen, or fast foods.
The specific impact dietary sodium has on health is a controversial issue that continues to be debated by scientists and doctors. Some recommend that we all limit our sodium intake to protect our health, while others believe that only certain people with certain conditions should limit their intake of sodium. If your doctor or dietitian has recommended that you watch your sodium intake, you might find that your busy lifestyle makes it difficult. But there are ways to do it successfully, even while you're on the go.
You may be familiar with the nutrition facts labels that appear on just about every item in your grocery store. But did you know that the laws behind food labeling also apply to restaurant signs, ads, and menus? Here's how it works:
Ironically, fast-food restaurants provide some of the best nutrition information available to consumers. In fact, McDonald's was one of the pioneers in providing nutrition analyses of its menu items to consumers. By putting nutrition information about their products on the Internet, many fast food franchises have taken the guesswork out of ordering foods that are not only lower in sodium, but also in fat and cholesterol.
Fast-food chains provide standardization too. While traveling around the country, you can be assured that a Quarter Pounder in Chicago will have the same sodium content as the same burger in Miami.
Here are some practical tips for slashing salt at the fast-food restaurants:
Some family restaurants, steakhouses, and more upscale dining establishments may not provide easily accessible nutrition information. Analyzing nutrition information can be expensive, and upscale restaurants frequently change their menus, making the process of providing nutrition information even more costly.
However, there are some simple steps you can take to control your sodium intake in these restaurants. For example, choose smaller servings of all foods, which will help slash the overall sodium intake. Try ordering lunch-size portions for dinner or share a dinner entree with a dining companion.
If your dinner plans include a five-star restaurant, you may be able to call ahead to find out how the chef can accommodate you.
Here are some tips for when you're eating at an upscale restaurant:
With so many food options when shopping, traveling, and dining, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But, you can take some simple steps to control your sodium intake, such as:
American Heart Association
National Restaurant Association
Dietitians of Canada
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Dietary Reference Intakes: Water, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate. National Institutes of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.iom.edu/CMS/3788/3969/18495.aspx. Published February 11, 2004. Accessed January 17, 2014.
Heart-check mark nutritional guidelines. American Heart Association website. website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HeartSmartShopping/Heart-Check-Mark-Nutritional-Guidelines_UCM_300914_Article.jsp#.T4g9RFFSTng. Updated November 12, 2013. Accessed January 17, 2014.
Reading food nutrition labels. American Heart Association website. website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HeartSmartShopping/Reading-Food-Nutrition-Labels_UCM_300132_Article.jsp#.T4g8uFFSTng. Updated January 13, 2014. Accessed January 17, 2014.
Sodium: the facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/Sodium_Fact_Sheet.pdf. Updated February 2013. Accessed January 17, 2014.
Sodium fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_sodium.htm. Updated July 26, 2013. Accessed January 17, 2014.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.