SPRINGFIELD – Eating too many salty foods can create all sorts of health problems, including high blood pressure. But did you know a lot of common foods are packed with excess sodium? It's not just the French fries and potato chips people need to be careful with.
That's why on National Eating Healthy Day, Nov. 7, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association is increasing awareness of sodium and the "Salty Six" – common foods that may be loaded with excess sodium that can increase a person's risk for heart disease and stroke. But the American Heart Association is making it easy to find better options when grocery shopping and when eating away from home. Simply look for the Heart-Check – when you see it, you'll know right away that the food or meal has been certified to meet our nutritional standards, including sodium.
Sodium overload is a major health problem in the United States. In a recent survey conducted by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, American consumers understand a small amount of sodium should be consumed daily, but the exact amount is not understood. The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day – more than twice the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. That's in large part because of the food supply; more than 75 percent of sodium consumption comes from processed and restaurant foods.
"Excess sodium in our diets has less to do with what we're adding to our food and more to do with what's already in the food," Mary Ann Burns, American Heart Association communications director, said. "The average individual is getting more than double the amount of sodium that they need, but there are ways to improve their sodium intake under their control."
Here's a quick look at the "Salty Six," the top sources for sodium in today's diet:
• Breads and rolls. We all know breads and rolls add carbohydrates and calories, but salt, too? It can be deceiving because a lot of bread doesn't even taste salty, but one piece can have as much as 230 milligrams of sodium. That's about 15 percent of the recommended amount from only one slice, and it adds up quickly. Have two sandwiches in one day? The bread alone could put you close to 1,000 milligrams of sodium.
• Cold cuts and cured meats. Even foods that would otherwise be considered healthy may have high levels of sodium. Deli or pre-packaged turkey can contain as much as 1,050 milligrams of sodium. It's added to most cooked meats so they don't spoil after a few days.
• Pizza. OK, everybody knows pizza's not exactly a health food, because of cholesterol, fat and calories. But pizza's plenty salty, too. One slice can contain up to 760 milligrams of sodium, so two can send you over the daily recommendation.
• Poultry. Surely chicken can't be bad for you, right? Well, it depends on how you prepare it. Reasonable portions of lean, skinless, grilled chicken are OK but may still contain an added sodium solution. And when you start serving up the chicken nuggets, the sodium also adds up. Just 3 ounces of frozen and breaded nuggets can add nearly 600 milligrams of sodium.
• Soup. This is another one of those foods that seems perfectly healthy. It can't be bad if Mom gave it to you for the sniffles, right? But when you take a look at the nutrition label it's easy to see how too much soup can quickly turn into a sodium overload. One cup of canned chicken noodle soup can have up to 940 milligrams of sodium. And remember that soup cans typically contain more than one serving.
• Sandwiches. This covers everything from grilled cheese to hamburgers. We already know that breads and cured meats may be heavy on the sodium. Add them together, then add a little ketchup or mustard and you can easily surpass 1,500 milligrams of sodium in one sitting.
Be sure to keep in mind that different brands and restaurant preparation of the same foods may have different sodium levels. The American Heart Association Heart-Check mark – whether in the grocery store or restaurant helps shoppers see through the clutter on grocery store shelves to find foods that help them build a heart-healthy diet.
Sodium doesn't just affect your heart health, but your physical appearance as well. Excess sodium consumption may make your face feel puffy, give you bags under your eyes, increase swelling in your fingers and make your jeans look, and feel, tighter. In fact, from the same American Heart Association/American Stroke Association consumer poll, 75 percent of respondents stated that their pants feeling too tight is their least favorite effect of bloating which may be associated with excess sodium consumption.
National Eating Healthy Day, Nov. 7, is devoted to encouraging everyone to make small changes to incorporate healthier food choices and increase awareness of the importance of good nutrition. Celebrate National Eating Healthy Day by making a conscious effort to eat less sodium. As you gear up for your next grocery store run or ordering from the menu, keep the Salty Six in mind. All you need to do to make a heart-healthy choice is to look for our familiar red heart with the white check.
Another helpful tool is the Nutrition Facts label on the package and calorie labeling in restaurants, which together with the Heart-Check mark helps you make wise choices for the foods you and your family eat.
Make the effort to choose products that contain less sodium. It's worth it.
For more information on sodium and nutrition, visit www.heart.org/sodium