When trying to pinpoint the excess sodium in your diet, don't trust your taste buds. Check the food label.
One teaspoon of salt may sound like a lot or a little depending on your eating habits. That is the maximum amount recommended for the average person, according to the National Institute of Health, and equals 100 percent of your daily value on a food label.
Most Americans eat almost double that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though sodium is an important mineral, most people are eating far more than recommended, and for some, it is detrimental to their health.
Sodium is an essential mineral found in nature that is important to our body's natural systems, but in excess can cause high blood pressure in some. Table salt is sodium chloride, but there are other forms of sodium in our foods, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG). I will use salt to refer to sodium in a general sense, as it is a term that is more common.
Most of the salt in the American diet comes from processed foods.
It occurs naturally in many foods in small quantities, and adding salt while cooking or at the table can certainly impact your daily consumption. But if you are trying to reduce your sodium intake, check the processed foods you are eating. Some are loaded with sodium but do not taste that salty. When salt is mixed in (like in a soup or sauce) you can taste it, but not as strongly as you would when it is covering the outside of a chip or pretzel.
By comparing labels, you can see that often the soup or sauce has much more salt per serving than the salty-tasting chip or pretzel.
To accurately assess how much salt is in your food choices, use the nutrition facts label. Keep in mind that your portion may or may not reflect the serving listed and this will impact the amount of sodium you are consuming. If a serving size is 1 cup but you are having a 2-cup portion, multiply the amount of sodium by two.
I find it easiest to use the percent daily value, instead of trying to remember how many milligrams I am allotted. However, if you are on a sodium-restricted diet, your allotment will be less than the 100 percent on the label, so be aware and use what works best for you.
Using the label is much clearer and more direct than taste or trusting health claims on packaging.
Taste can be misleading; packaging can be confusing. Claims such as "reduced sodium" or "made with all natural sea salt" do not mean that food is low in sodium. If one serving of a soup normally contains 40 percent of the daily value of sodium and you reduce it to 25 percent less, it is still much higher than many non-processed foods.
Sea salt, which has become a food buzz word, is not any healthier than table salt. It does often come in larger flakes and may have a different flavor, but it is still made up of mostly sodium and will impact your health the same way as any other salt. This also applies to flavored salts, such as garlic salt.
Tips to reduce sodium
▶ Use fresh, unseasoned frozen or no-salt-added canned vegetables. Rinse canned items that include added salt.
▶ Use fresh fish and meats instead of processed or canned meats, including deli or seasoned meats.
▶ Choose to prepare your own sauces and season your own foods without using salt instead of buying convenience foods.
▶ When you do buy convenience foods, check labels and find lower sodium options.
▶ Hang in there! Salt is an acquired taste, and if you have learned to like it, it is hard to cut back. Add less and less to your foods until you are not adding salt or quit cold turkey and wait a few weeks, food will taste good without it.
▶ One can (10.75 ounces) of condensed tomato soup often has 30 percent of daily value per serving and it contains 2.5 servings. That means eating the can of soup gives you 75 percent of your daily value of sodium or 1,775 mg of sodium.
▶ One lunch pack (pre-packaged children's lunch) can contain almost 40 percent or 900 mg of sodium.
▶ One slice of turkey deli meat contains 250 mg of sodium, which is only about 10 percent per slice, but can add up fast when making a sandwich.
▶ One serving of plain tortilla chips can have as low as 100 mg of sodium, less than 5 percent daily value.
Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450.