Taste buds may feel the pinch, but shaking salt habit a must for health

It’s pretty well in everything we eat — literally from soup to nuts — but health experts say Canadians need to shake up their diets and cut back on the salt.

The average person consumes way too much sodium, says Kevin Willis of the Canadian Stroke Network, and over time that excessive intake can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Research suggests that reducing the amount of dietary sodium to recommended levels could prevent premature deaths from heart disease and strokes in 30 to 40 Canadians a day — saving roughly 11,000 to 15,000 lives per year.

“I’m coming at this from the health perspective and we’re very aware of the impact that sodium has on the health of Canadians,” says Willis. “It’s one of those areas where the quicker we can make the reductions, the quicker we will see the benefits.”

“In fact, it’s almost instantaneous. So as people cut back on their sodium, they’re in real time reducing their risk of heart attacks and stroke, because the sodium in their diet affects blood pressure, and blood pressure affects your risk of heart disease and stroke.”

Next month, a federally convened panel of experts, known as the Sodium Working Group, is expected to bring down its recommendations for voluntary sodium-reduction targets in the food industry. The 25-member panel, chaired by Health Canada, includes representatives from food manufacturing and the food service industry, health-focused organizations, scientists, consumer groups and government.

The initial aim is to slash Canadians’ average daily sodium intake by about a third by 2016.

In the meantime, public health advocates are urging Canadians to start the process of weaning themselves from salt by sprinkling less of the white stuff on their meals and choosing lower sodium options when it comes to prepared foods.

For adults, 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day is considered an adequate intake and 2,300 mg the upper limit.

But with Canadians now averaging 3,400 mg each and every day — and with so many store-bought prepared foods and restaurant offerings chock-a-block with palate-pleasing salt — even those pushing for change concede that cutting down won’t be easy.

“It’s everywhere,” says Willis. “And that’s what makes it difficult to avoid.”

“I think one of the important things that Canadians can do, a way that they can empower themselves, is to read labels and always try and choose the brand with the lowest amount of sodium.”

The Stroke Network recommends avoiding foods that contain 400 mg or more of sodium per serving size. Items with sodium content between 200 and 400 mg are considered OK on occasion, but consumers should aim for products with 200 mg or less per serving.

Ontario registered dietitian Lynn Weaver agrees that consumers must be religious about checking labels before a packaged product goes into the shopping cart.

But buying fresh foods and preparing them oneself with little or no salt is a sure-fire way to avoid sodium overload, she adds.

“Eat from the outside lanes of the grocery store and not the inside lanes because the outside is the fresh fruits and fresh vegetables, the dairy products, the meat — the foods that are not as processed.”

“The more food we make that we know what’s going into it, the easier it really is to control our sodium,” she says. “So an example would be to have a roasted chicken, and make your own chicken sandwich, which would be far less sodium than a chicken luncheon meat sandwich.”

Indeed, some of the biggest culprits when it comes to super-high sodium levels are those mainstays of convenience foods for busy families — hot dogs, deli meats and pizzas, especially pizzas piled high with gobs of salt-laden cheese and pepperoni.

“Pizza is kind of like a perfect storm of sodium,” says Susan Barr, a professor of food nutrition and health at the University of British Columbia and a member of the Sodium Working Group.

But such quick and easy meal items aren’t the only ones to watch out for: some foods specifically aimed at kids can also be sodium-rich.

Charlene Elliott, an associate professor of communications at the University of Calgary, recently led a study that evaluated sodium content in baby, toddler and children’s prepared foods.

“Baby foods aren’t a huge problem,” says Elliott, noting that most had an average of 40 mg of sodium per serving, what she calls reasonable. “But there were some of them that had three times that amount.”

Eight per cent of toddler foods were considered high in salt, but when it came to products marketed for older children, 27 per cent — or 95 out of 354 products assessed — had elevated sodium content, Elliott says.

The Institute of Medicine, which sets recommended sodium levels, says adequate daily intake for children aged one to three is 1,000 mg, while 1,200 mg daily is adequate for kids aged four to eight.

Yet Elliott’s group found that some prepared foods intended for children provided almost that much sodium in one meal. Top of the list is a Schneiders Lunchmate combo meal, which contains well over 1,000 mg of sodium per serving. The company’s Hot Dogs Kit, boasts 980 mg of sodium in a 105-gram serving, while its Lunchmate Stackers products range from 820 mg to 960 mg of sodium.

Elliott acknowledges that getting school-aged kids in particular to eat healthier can be a huge challenge for parents, in part because of social pressure.

“The kids, there was a real social cachet to have (these lunch products) … I honestly don’t know what to tell parents because I think they’re put in the middle symbolically. They don’t want to be the ones that don’t send the kids to school with a lunch that they can be proud of.”

While some in the food industry have begun reducing salt content — for example, Campbell’s has cut sodium in many of its soups by 10 to 25 per cent — Willis believes whatever voluntary reduction targets the Sodium Working Group decides on will not be enough to get Canadians off the salt kick fast enough.

“Voluntary reductions are a great start,” he says. “They have the advantage of being flexible and can be quite quick if companies respond. But I think longer term, we’re going to need to have regulations in order to get sodium down to the levels that are really needed to see larger health benefits.”

Until then, consumers can start the process of adjusting their taste buds by choosing lower-sodium foods, he says, noting the experience is akin to getting used to eliminating sugar in coffee.

“Within a couple of weeks or so, you get used to the new taste and coffee will taste awful with sugar. And it’s just like that with salt. It really only takes a matter of a few weeks before you adapt.”

By: Sheryl Ubelacker, Health Reporter, The Canadian Press

Original article: http://www.canadaeast.com/wellness/article/1093782

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On the Net:

Canadian Stroke Nework tips for reducing salt intake — sodium101.ca