Monday, March 18, 2013

Sneaky Salt

When the calendar flipped over to 2013, I made a decision to consume less sodium. This in turn was driven by the unexpected realization (I make a real effort to eat healthy) that I was routinely taking in 150% - 200% of the recommended level every day - and those percentages are based on the upper end of the recommended range.

Ok, no problem. I never add salt to anything anyway so I will just look at the food labels and buy things with less sodium. Woah! Did you ever DO that dude?

What I discovered was that many of the things I was eating had enough sodium in them that they probably ought to be considered poisons. Just a few of the more egregious offenders:

  • Campbells's regular Condensed soups. These things should just be labeled "liquid salt". One serving of Cream of Chicken soup sports a hefty 790mg of sodium. But "servings" are just one of the clever ways that food manufacturers manipulate the labeling. Who eats just one serving? Eat the entire can and you get 1,975mg - nearly a whole day's worth. If you must eat this stuff look for the their "Healthy Request" line. They still have 800mg - 900mg per can, but less is better.
  • Marie Callender's frozen pot pies. "Only" 800mg there. But wait, that's per serving again (half a pie). Eat the whole thing and you get 1,600mg - again just about your whole day's worth.
  • How about a can of chili while watching the game? 900mg. Oops! Per serving. Eat the whole can and plan on a heart pounding 1,800mg.
Are you starting to see how this works? Well it gets worse when you eat out and there are no labels. Olive Garden's "Tour of Italy" dinner ought to let you accumulate points toward a free bypass surgery, clocking in at an astounding 3,830mg of sodium. Thinking of just having the salad instead? Fugeddaboutit. If you put dressing on the salad (and who doesn't) you are wolfing down 1,530mg. Its easy to pick on McDonald's of course. But have a Big Mac and a large fries and you can plan on taking in 1,420mg. Just 1/4th of the "healthier" Tour of Italy.

What is the recommended amount? It depends who you ask. Food labels and the food industry suggest 2,400mg per day. The Center's for Disease Control and Prevention - who do not to my knowledge sell any food products - recommend "less than 2,300mg, with 1,500mg being a completely adequate level for most Americans". I'm shooting for 2,000mg.

I've been doing much better at limiting my sodium to under my 2,000mg target level, but its taken some detective work. Its also required eating a lot less canned and processed frozen foods and changing my choices when I do.

The lesson here is that you cannot rely on claims or even food labels to know whether what you are eating is truly good for you or not. (Lean Cuisine? Healthy Choice? Read the labels.) Its your body, and so far as I know we are all only issued one. You might want to start reading what you eat before you start chewing it.

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