Open Arms of Minnesota

National Nutrition Month: Cut Back on the Extras

By Gwen Hill MS, RD, LD

Our final challenge for National Nutrition Month encompasses a large request: cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars. This blog will cover the first topic: Decrease your sodium intake.

Many people love the taste of salt and have no desire to see it go — so why cut back on salt? Here’s the deal: people who have a higher intake of sodium are at an increased risk for high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It can also increase the risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis.

Potassium, a mineral found in fruits and vegetables, negates the effect of sodium, depending on the quantities in which each is eaten. If you eat enough potassium-rich foods, you may offset the negative effect of sodium. However, most people don’t get the daily recommended amount of potassium — just one more reason to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables!

Therefore, it is wise to follow the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation to limit the amount of sodium you consume in a day to 2,300 mg. The American Heart Association recommends an even lower intake of 1,500 mg per day for heart protective effects. For reference, the average daily intake of sodium in America is 3,400 mg. If you eat pre-packaged or fast food often, your average intake will be much higher.

Here is the amount of sodium found in various measures of table salt. A little goes a long way:

1/4 teaspoon salt = 600 mg sodium
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,200 mg sodium
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,800 mg sodium
1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Sodium is found in some foods naturally and it is also in the salt found in our salt shakers. But fast foods, pre-packaged foods and canned foods are the real problem, because producers add a lot of sodium to them. To limit sodium, look for reduced sodium versions of pre-packaged products and canned foods — OR, even better, make food from scratch so you can control the amount of salt you add to your food. And, if you have a heavy hand with the salt shaker at the table, try to cut down on the amount you use.

Check out this week’s recipe for a delicious way to cut back on the extras that might be weighing down your plate.

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