Is 1,500 mg of sodium a realistic goal?
I grew up in a salt-loving family. We salted everything: tomatoes, melon slices, any food on our plate - before we even tasted it to see if it really needed more salt. One of my early vivid memories is of getting a McDonald's hamburger and fries and pouring a packet of salt on each before drizzling ketchup over the fries.
I'm the only one of my family members who has (so far, at least) avoided high blood pressure. Though I sometimes crave a salty treat, I don't seek salt out, and I never add it to anything I eat, save for the occasional bowl of popcorn.
But as I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, I think even I might be hard-pressed to cut my sodium intake to the level that's likely to be recommended in the upcoming Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, to be issued in December. If that document adopts the recommendation of the advisory committee whose findings largely inform the final guidelines, Americans will be urged to gradually reduce their sodium intake from the more than 3,000 mg we now consume, on average, to just 1,500 mg daily, well below the 2,300 mg that the current (2005) guidelines allow.
Even if you don't add salt at the stove or the table, it's hard to keep your sodium intake that low. Packaged and processed foods and restaurant meals are by far our biggest sources of sodium; even skim milk delivers a dose. You'd have to cook practically everything you eat from scratch to stay within 1,500 mg a day. The advisory committee recognizes this difficulty and notes that much of the sodium-reduction work ahead must be done by food manufacturers.
As for the McDonald's meal of my youth, here's what the current nutrition data says about its sodium content: A plain McDonald's burger has 520 mg; add cheese and the new total is 750 mg. A small serving of fries has 160 mg; a medium has 270 mg, and a large has 350. A package of ketchup adds 110 mg; one salt packet contains 270 mg.
So that little meal of mine would have added up to at least 1,330 mg of sodium.
That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room.
Do you think you could get by on just 1,500 mg of sodium a day? Check the nutrition facts for the foods you typically eat. I think you might be in for a surprise.
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