Nutrition-wise blog

Americans take diet guidelines with a grain of salt

By Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. January 19, 2016

In the first week of January, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released and recommended, as earlier guidelines have, that Americans cut the sodium in their diet to less than 2,300 milligrams a day.

At the same time, results from the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that during 2009-2012, 98 percent of men, 90 percent of children and 80 percent of women consumed too much salt. Sodium was typically higher among persons eating more calories. Estimated sodium consumed was highest among people 19-50 years of age.

Why the disconnect?

The link between high sodium and high blood pressure (hypertension) is clear. Hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. Lowering your sodium intake can reduce your blood pressure and your risk for stroke and coronary artery disease.

We've long known that diet has an impact on blood pressure. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet has been shown effective in reducing blood pressure. The DASH diet limits sodium and includes foods rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium to further improve blood pressure.

Where is all that salt coming from?

You might be surprised to hear that the top sources of sodium in the U.S. diet include breads and rolls, deli meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat mixed dishes, such as meatloaf with tomato sauce, and savory snacks. Additionally, more than 30 percent of calories are consumed away from home where foods tend to be high in sodium.

Eating more whole foods, fresh or frozen from fresh, can improve our diet. Eating a way in that is closer to the DASH diet can reduce sodium and improve your blood pressure:

  • Eat at home more often. Plan for "on the go" occasions by packing a home-prepared meal and snacks.
  • Try whole grains such as barley, brown rice and quinoa in place of dinner rolls or bread.
  • Choose lean meats without added salt.
  • Eat 1-2 fewer slices of pizza and add a salad or other vegetables to the meal.
  • Prepare pasta and mixed dishes with lower sodium ingredients, preferably more fresh or frozen vegetables.
  • Snack on fruits and vegetables more often than salty foods.

Try one or two of the above suggestions. You can feel good knowing that reducing salt and adding more nutrients to your diet will have a positive impact on your health.

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Jan. 19, 2016