New York City shakes down on salty foods

Consumer Reports News: January 11, 2010 04:58 PM

In a push to reduce the amount of salt we eat, New York City has launched a health initiative to work with the packaged and restaurant foods industry. The plan sets a goal of reducing the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant food by 20 percent gradually over the next five years. New York City has been at the forefront on similar initiatives in the past several years, including adopting a ban on trans fat in restaurant foods, requiring calorie counts on chain restaurant menus, and warning consumers about sugary beverages.

Only a small fraction of the sodium in our diets is added at the table as salt; almost 80 percent of it comes from packaged and restaurant foods, making it particularly difficult to cut back on.

The American Heart Association applauds New York City’s efforts, and with good reason. Most Americans consume more than double their daily recommended level of sodium, which is 2,300 milligrams (approximately one teaspoon) of salt per day for most adults. Exceeding that limit can increase your risk of high blood pressure and might also boost the risk of asthma, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and stomach cancer.

If you’re concerned about your sodium intake when you’re eating out, check the nutritional information at the restaurant’s Web site before you get there. Request low-salt dishes, and ask for sauces or dressings to be served on the side.

If you’re eating in, here are some simple tips to try:
  • Buy fresh, plain frozen, or canned "no added salt" vegetables.
  • Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meats rather than canned or processed.
  • Use herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning when cooking and at the table.
  • Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt. Cut back on instant rice and pasta mixes, as these tend to have added salt.
  • Cut back on frozen dinners, pizzas, canned soups, and salad dressings—these often contain a lot of salt.
  • Rinse canned foods, such as tuna, to remove some salt.
  • When available, buy low- or reduced-sodium or "no added salt" versions of foods.

Ginger Skinner

Take our quiz to find out how much sodium is hidden in some foods and read about other ways to reduce your sodium intake.

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