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The New Dietary Guidelines: Are You Eating Too Much Salt?

Due to the growing number of individuals suffering from chronic diseases, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines are tailored towards both the healthy population but also emphasis recommendations for chronic disease.  While the 2010 guidelines still recommend healthy individuals limit their sodium to 2300 mg a day, a heavier emphasis is being placed on reducing sodium to 1500 mg a day for anyone over the age of 51, African Americans and anyone with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.   These three high risk groups account for approximately half of all adults and children in the United States.

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For prevention of chronic disease and to encourage manufacturers to reduce the amount of sodium in products, it would be beneficial for the entire population to limit sodium to 1500 mg a day.  According to the American Heart Association, if the average sodium intake decreased to 1500 mg a day, the country would save $426 billion in health care expenditures and average blood pressure levels would decrease by 25.6%.  It will be very difficult to lower sodium to 1500 mg a day without the help of food manufacturers and restaurants.  Processed and restaurant foods account for approximately 77% of sodium in Americans diets.  If society does not push for lower sodium products, our loved ones in the high risk groups will most likely never be able to achieve 1500 mg a day.   If consumers start demanding more reduced sodium products, manufacturers and restaurants will be forced to find ways to make their products healthier.  It's important to remember that you, the consumer, drive the food development market in terms of supply, demand, new products and product changes.   
   
Restaurants and food manufacturers are only part of the solution.  Individual diet choices will also play a huge role in reducing sodium intakes.  So where to start?  First, track your current sodium intake.  Keep a food journal for an entire week and evaluate how much sodium you are consuming.  Then slowly reduce your daily sodium intake by 200 mg for a month.  The following month cut out 200 mg more and so forth until a healthier level is achieved.  Studies have shown that even a 400 mg sodium reduction can decrease blood pressure and lower risk of cardiovascular events.   Cutting back slowly will allow your taste buds to adapt and alleviate the frustration and overwhelming feeling associated with drastic diet changes.  Focus on reducing or eliminating high sodium foods such as processed meat, canned soups and sauces first.  Many of these products are already available in low sodium versions.  
   
Be knowledgeable about sodium labeling claims.  Sodium free means the product contains less than 5 mg of sodium per serving while low sodium products have 140 mg or less.  Reduced sodium products contain at least 25% less sodium than the regular product which can be deceiving.  For example, many reduced sodium canned soups can still contribute 600 mg of sodium per serving because the original product had 800 mg sodium or more.  Overall, reducing the sodium in your diet goes back to the basics; lots of fruits, vegetables, fresh meats, low fat dairy and whole grains.  Try shopping just the outside of the grocery store aisles and avoiding the middle as much as possible!

Laura N. Kenny is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Dietitian in the state of Indiana.  She received both her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics and completed her dietetic internship at Purdue University. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree from Central Michigan University. Laura works for the Indiana Obesity Center PC under the supervision of Dr. Keith McEwen. She specializes in both surgical and non-surgical weight loss including nutritional adherence, meal planning, and macro/micro nutrient status. Kenny also promotes healthy eating through various speaking engagements throughout Indianapolis and teaches indoor cycling and Pilates classes in her free time. Since staring her dietetics career, she has worked with a variety of populations and chronic diseases.  Each summer Laura volunteers at Camp John Warvel, a camp for children with diabetes.  She also enjoys writing, sports, exercise, and reading "hot topics" in nutrition.  Laura has a true passion for guiding people to choose healthy nutritional choices for each and every individual lifestyle. To contact Laura, email her at lkenny@ecommunity.com.

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