If you find it hard to keep your sodium intake as low as the government recommends, you’re not alone: Almost no one is staying within these limits, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report issued late last year.
To reduce the risk of high blood pressure, everyone over 50, all blacks and people with hypertension, diabetes or kidney disease—that adds up to most adults—should consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. That's the amount of sodium in about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt)
But only one percent of the people in the above group have cut down on sodium that much. Other adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams, but only five percent are doing so.
What to do? Obviously, cut back on foods that contribute the most sodium. A more recent report from the CDC identified the top 10 sources of sodium in the American diet. Bread and rolls are the biggest culprit, accounting for 7 percent of total sodium intake—not because each serving is so high in sodium, but because we eat these foods so often. Next are cold cuts and cured meats, followed by pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes and salty snacks.
At the very least, look for low-sodium versions of these foods, or eat them less frequently and in smaller portions. A 25 percent reduction in sodium from just these 10 food categories could reduce the average sodium intake in the U.S. by 10 percent and prevent up to 28,000 premature deaths a year, the report concluded.
Bottom line: Even if you can’t meet the recommended limits, don’t stop trying. It’s especially challenging if you’re an active or larger person who needs more calories, since you eat more food and yet are supposed to aim for the same sodium limit. Just get down as low as possible, since any reduction is beneficial.
Most of our sodium comes from processed packaged products, so cooking at home using more whole foods is the way to go. And watch out for restaurant meals: they supply one-quarter of the average American’s daily sodium.