By Michelle Edelbaum, January 11, 2010 - 4:34pm
Move over trans fats, there’s a new health villain in town: sodium.
New York City is on the cutting edge of food regulation once again, this time with a new target. First the City banned trans fats in food, then it required restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus. Now the New York Health Department wants to curb the amount of salt we’re eating. Today the health department released draft guidelines for a new (voluntary) health initiative to encourage food manufacturers and restaurant chains to curb the amount of sodium in their food. While the city hasn’t made sodium reduction a law, its goal is a 20 percent reduction in the amount of salt in packaged products and restaurant food in the next five years.
That’s a big deal! Most Americans consume more than twice the recommended daily sodium limit of 2,300 milligrams—the amount in just 1 teaspoon of table salt. Reducing sodium intake slashed cardiovascular-disease risk by 25 to 30 percent, according to a study in the British Medical Journal. Find 20+ delicious low-sodium recipes here.
An industry-wide reduction in sodium in packaged foods could have a huge effect on health. “The majority of the sodium we eat is in packaged and prepared foods,” says Darwin R. Labarthe, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., director of the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. This may explain why the New York City initiative has gained the support of numerous state health departments and health authorities, including the American Heart Association and American Medical Association. Find 6 easy ways to cut back on your sodium intake here.
Food manufacturers are getting the message. The number of products touting their “lower sodium” status has more than doubled over the last five years, with major brands, such as Del Monte, General Mills and Kraft, also bringing out lower-sodium product lines. While some food makers are announcing their reduced-sodium status, other manufacturers aren’t making a big deal about it. Instead they’re gradually reducing the amount of salt so that consumers don’t notice, as the New York Health Department suggests.
But beware: a can of soup or broth, or any food really, with a “reduced sodium” label may actually have as much sodium as a “regular” version of another brand. The term “reduced sodium”—also called “lower sodium”—is regulated by the FDA and means only that the product contains at least 25 percent less than its original version. If you’re really watching your intake, look for “low sodium” on the label: that product can’t have more than 140 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams (about 336 milligrams per cup).
The best thing you can do? Pay less attention to fancy labels on the front of packages and instead home in on the sodium information on Nutrition Facts panels.
Do your heart good and launch your own campaign to cut back on sodium. Here are 5 easy ways to cut sodium from your diet:
1. Don’t add it if you can’t taste it. As a rule, I don’t add salt to boiling water for pasta or potatoes. I prefer to add salt to a dish when its impact will be strongest—usually at the end of cooking. A little salt goes a longer way if it’s sprinkled on a food just before serving; you’ll taste it in every bite.
2. Use sea salt. Even if you’re watching your sodium intake, you can enjoy sea salts. While gram for gram sea salts contain as much sodium as table salt, their larger crystals and unique flavors, derived from various sources, may result in your using less salt overall, says Chef Kyle Shadix, M.S., R.D., director at Nutrition + Culinary Consultants in New York City.
3. Use fresh ingredients whenever you can. You’ll save umpteen milligrams of sodium by making your own sauces and soups, and simmering dried beans until soft (rather than opening a can). Yes, it’s a time commitment, but if you’re serious about salt reduction it’s time well spent. Make these staples more convenient by cooking them in big batches and freezing in single-serving portions for later use.
4. Use convenience foods wisely. Opt for frozen (unsauced) vegetables rather than canned—and when you can’t, seek out low- or reduced-sodium varieties. Rinse the foods in a colander before using to get rid of some of the salt. Cut back or eliminate additional salt in a recipe that calls for canned goods. Fresh vs. frozen vegetables: which is healthier? The answer may surprise you.
5. Look for low-sodium products. If you’re really watching your intake, look for “low sodium” on the label: that product can’t have more than 140 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams (about 336 milligrams per cup). The term “reduced sodium”—also called “lower sodium”—is regulated by the FDA and means only that the product contains at least 25 percent less than its original version.
What are your tricks for cooking with less salt? Tell us what you think below.