While pickles aren't my passion, I love salty foods. I'd choose chips, popcorn or cheese over sweets anytime. But my body isn't impressed with my sodium obsession. At the age of 27-just a few years ago (wink, wink)-I was diagnosed with extremely high blood pressure. Since then, I've had to rein in my hankerings for the white stuff. I'm not exaggerating when I say this is an ongoing battle.
The relationship between sodium intake and blood pressure varies among individuals; some of us have blood pressures that are sensitive to our sodium consumption, while others don't. I happen to fall into the "sodium sensitive" category: within 24 hours of eating too much salt, I have symptoms related to my blood pressure rising.
Although we need small amounts of sodium in our diets to maintain good health, research shows that we're getting far too much. On average, adult Canadians consume about 3,500 milligrams a day, which is well above the recommended daily intake of 1,200 to 1,500 mg and the upper tolerable limit for health: 2,300 mg.
Studies reveal that reducing our dietary sodium could eliminate high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, for over a million of the 5.3 million Canadians who have the condition. In fact, reducing our daily sodium intake by 1,840 mg has the potential to prevent about one in seven deaths from stroke and one in 11 deaths from coronary heart disease. The decreased incidence of hypertension would save our country at least $430 million annually in direct health care costs.
Lowering our salt intake is no easy task. According to Melodie Yong, the registered dietitian with Global TV's morning news segment, One Bite at a Time, 77 per cent of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods sold in grocery stores, restaurants or fast food outlets; about 11 per cent is added while we cook or at the table. The remainder occurs naturally in food.
This isn't good news given that the Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition indicates that of all the money spent on food in Canada, 40 per cent is shelled out in foodservice outlets. And on any given day in North America, 30 per cent of kids visit a fast food joint, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
Because our country's food products are among the saltiest in the world, Health Canada and organizations like the Canadian Stroke Network are working with food industry officials to lower the sodium levels of processed and packaged goods.
But as consumers, what can we do to control our sodium intake?
"Get in the habit of carefully reading nutrition labels for the number of milligrams of sodium in food," says Yong, who has 10 years of experience providing heart health nutrition counseling.
"And be sure to check the serving size on the nutrition fact panel in relation to your usual portion, then adjust accordingly."
A Percent Daily Value (% DV) of five per cent or less on the nutrition label means the food is considered low sodium; 20 per cent or more, is high.
"Look out for hidden sources of sodium in baked goods-breads, muffins, scones, cereals-it's quite shocking the varying amounts between products. And include a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables in your diet. These are generally low in sodium naturally and provide a powerhouse of nutrients," says Yong.
Don't be fooled into thinking that you're doing yourself a favour by using kosher salt, sea salt or some other exotic type instead of table salt. These salts differ in terms of their additive and iodine content, but their basic composition is identical: they're all sodium chloride and they have exactly the same impact on our bodies.
For more information about reducing dietary sodium, visit sodium101.ca.
Linda Watts is a registered dietitian. Send questions to email@example.com and visit her blog at lindawatts.blogspot.com.