Sodium is a natural component of foods. However, sodium is only available in small quantities in natural foods as opposed to its amount in many processed foods. The average American diet at present contains too much sodium. This is because the many types of readily available food is processed. A lot of processed foods contain sodium for a variety of reasons.
Salt in Processed Foods
Processed foods and similar products have sodium for two primary purposes: preservation and taste. Thus, if the food is more processed, it is likely that the sodium content is higher. Salt, which is a common form of sodium, is also included in processed foods that can be reconstituted with water (processed meats, soups, bouillon cubes). Other types of sodium include baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, monosodium glutamate, sodium benzoate, sodium saccharin and sodium nitrate.
Why Salt is Added
The use of sodium as a preservative came from the old practice of salting food to prevent it from spoiling. Sodium chloride (salt) can prevent the development of food-borne pathogens. This is specifically beneficial in foods such as cheese products, fermented foods, luncheon meats and even salad dressings. Because food manufacturers and producers often want to prolong the shelf life of their products, the amount of sodium in many processed foods is increased to certain levels. Aside from their preservation properties, sodium also helps bind ingredients. It enhances the color of the food, improves taste and function as a stabilizer. The utilities of sodium has make it a crucial ingredient for many processed foods. It not only sustains the “life” of the food but it also provides a more economical approach to most companies.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that a food product has high sodium content if it contains more than 500 milligrams of sodium. That is, more than 500 mg for every 100 g. If the sodium content is lower than 120 milligram for every 100 grams, then the food product has a low sodium content. Food products with high sodium content include: spreads and sauces (around 1,200 mg per 100 mg) and processed meat (more than 800mg per 100 mg). Foods with lower sodium content include vegetables and cereals (both around 200 mg per 100 mg).
Recommended Sodium Consumption
Although processed foods and other food products high in sodium are tastier and more convenient to eat most of the time, their constant consumption is not recommended. The American Heart Association suggests that it’s better for people to limit their consumption to 1,500 mg of sodium daily. This is because high sodium content in one’s diet can lead to several health complications, such as high blood pressure, stroke and weight gain.
Because excessive amounts of sodium can encourage many health problems, health experts advise people to maintain a low-sodium diet. A low-sodium diet is possible if people will stick to eating more natural and fresh foods as opposed to processed ones. Adopting a low-sodium diet may also help people lose weight.