Wellness

The scoop on salt (recipe included)

February 24, 2012

The scoop on salt (recipe included)

In less than a week February 2012 will be recorded in the history books.  For me, it is the end to a busy month.  Since I work for Alegent Health Heart and Vascular Institute, it is a month of many requests for presentations focused on nutrition and heart disease or nutrition and preventing heart disease.  This year sodium was the popular topic request.

Early in February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new report on sodium consumption in the United States.  The report estimated the salt intake from more than 7,000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Survey (2007-2008).  According to this report, the mean daily intake of sodium in theUnited States is 3,266 milligrams. This is troubling because the USDA and the American Heart Association recommend a maximum daily sodium consumption of 2300 milligrams for the general population, and only 1500 milligrams for high risk populations, including:

  • Persons 51 years of age and older
  • African Americans
  • Persons with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

This study was interesting to me because their statistical analysis indicated that 44% of sodium consumed came from 10 food categories.  Below is a list from the highest category to the lowest:

  1. Bread and rolls
  2. Cold cuts, cured meats, deli meats
  3. Pizza
  4. Poultry
  5. Soups
  6. Sandwiches
  7. Cheese
  8. Pasta mixed dishes
  9. Meat mixed dishes
  10. Snacks

Reviewing this list makes it easy to see that most of the sodium in the American diet comes from processed or restaurant foods.  In fact, 77% of the sodium comes from boxed foods purchased in a store or restaurant.

At my presentations, the audiences were surprised by the bread and roll category.  The high amount of sodium in bread is not needed as a preservative, but rather is due to the size of the slice.  Portions have increased in all food categories, but especially in bread.

Did you know? Eating a large bagel is equal to eating four or five slices of bread.

Have you noticed the thickness of a slice of bread or the large size of a bagel?  The thicker the slice the higher the sodium number will be.  A slice of bread should be 28 grams (1 ounce).  A one ounce slice of bread will be in the sodium range of 65 to 135 milligrams of sodium.  Check the serving size on the food label.  It will list the slice of bread in grams and ounces.  A serving size of a bagel should be two ounces.  Many are four to five ounces.  Eating a large bagel is equal to eating four or five slices of bread! Since bread and rolls are foods that are served daily, they made the top of the list.

Currently, federal agencies in the United States are considering whether they should write stricter standards for the amount of salt that food manufacturers, restaurants, and food service companies can add to their products.  I am hopeful that this will not be necessary.  Consumers buying fresh food, preparing more meals at home, and asking for lower sodium choices at restaurants would achieve the goal of lower sodium intake.  Consumers have the power if we would just speak up with our food choices.  If it does not sell, it will not be offered.

So why all the stress over sodium?

Excess sodium intake is a public health concern.  It’s associated with increased blood pressure and high blood pressure is associated with a higher risk of stroke.

What to do? Read food labels.  Choose foods with lower sodium numbers.  Check the sodium content of restaurant meals.  Many restaurants do list the sodium content on their websites.  Request this information from restaurants.  It is my personal form of protest not to purchase foods with high sodium content.  We have the power to promote change.

If you want to read more about sodium and your health, the CDC has archived a series of PowerPoint presentations that you will find informative.


Since soup is one of the high sodium foods, I have included a lower sodium soup recipe.  Using low sodium vegetable broth makes it a meatless soup, great for the Lenten season.  It is also quick to prepare.

Easy Tortellini Soup

  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth or low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) no salt added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2-1/3 cups cheese tortellini
  • 1-1/4 cups carrots, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. ground pepper
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese, optional

In a Dutch oven, sauté onion in oil until tender.  Add garlic and carrots, cook one minute longer.  Stir in broth and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add tortellini.  Cookd for eight minutes or until tender.  Stir in vinegar and pepper.  Cook and stir until heated through.  Serve.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Makes 6 cups
Serving size: 1 cup

Nutritional Content:
Calories: 179
Carbohydrate: 28 grams
Fiber: 4 grams
Fat: 4 grams
Saturated fat: 2 grams
Trans fat: 0
Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 352 milligrams
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