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Misleading Sodium Labels

Tuesday, 01 March 2011 09:40 AM EST

Most of the salt overload in our diets comes from packaged or restaurant foods, rather than the salt shaker, so checking nutritional information for sodium content is a must for anyone interested in eating a healthy diet. But labels can be misleading.

One of the elements on every Nutrition Facts panel on food products is “% Daily Value.” For sodium, this number can give you a false impression.

For years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have recommended a daily sodium limit of 2,400 mg (about 1 teaspoon of salt) for healthy people. However, the most recent update of the guidelines gives a lower limit — 1,500 mg daily — for healthy people age 51 or older, those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, and for African Americans.

The guidelines also estimate that the majority of American adults fall into the 1,500 mg category. In practice, this means the “% Daily Value” is way off base for most people.

Label Tricks

If you look at a Nutrition Facts panel and see that a serving of the food contains 400 mg of sodium, noted as 16 percent of Daily Value, it may not seem all that much. But if you should be eating no more than 1,500 mg daily, that same amount is just over 26 percent of the daily total.

To put this in context, just 2 ounces of a deli meat (the typical “serving” on labels) frequently contains more than 400 mg of sodium. Given that actual servings are usually bigger and most breads contain a generous dose of sodium, it’s quite possible to get the majority of 1,500 mg, or more, in one sandwich.

As examples, Subway 6-inch low-fat sandwiches with meat pack 800 to 1200 mg of sodium, and regular versions range between 930 and 1930 mg. Low-fat Footlong sandwiches range between 1490 and 2400 mg of sodium.

Better Options

Few foods in their natural state contain significant sodium. Beef, for example, averages around 40 mg in 2 ounces, but when it’s cured for deli-style slices, sodium skyrockets. Chicken and turkey deli slices are a bit lower but still high.

The good news is that food manufacturers are offering lower-sodium options. Boar’s Head , for example, is a popular brand of sliced meats at the deli counters of many supermarkets, and some of its offerings are extremely low in sodium. In a 2-ounce serving, the All Natural Cap-Off Top Round Oven Roasted Beef contains 80 mg and the Deluxe Low Sodium Oven Roasted Beef-Cap-Off Top Round has a mere 40 mg.

Breads and other baked goods, cereals, soups, and frozen meals are other common sources of sodium overload, but all of these have healthier options. By law, food labeled “Low-sodium” contains no more than 140 mg of sodium per serving. Other options are foods with “reduced sodium,” “light in sodium,” or similar wording, with anywhere from 25 percent to 50 percent less sodium than regular versions of the same products.

These are some “low” or “light” sodium foods worth checking out:

• Soups and broths from Pacific Natural Foods
• Soups, sauces, chili, and frozen meals from Amy’s Kitchen, including organic versions.
• Pastries, bars, and cereals from Nature's Path Foods.

If you try low-sodium foods and your taste buds complain, see Stop the Salt Insanity for sodium-free ways to add lots of flavor. And don’t forget to add lots of fresh vegetables.

© HealthDay

Tuesday, 01 March 2011 09:40 AM
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