The Inconvenience of Convenience Foods

Americans are all about convenience. Fast food restaurants and packaged foods make it easy for us to eat quickly and on the go, but at what price?

Recent articles by WebMD and the CDC show that most Americans consume more than double the amount of their daily recommended level of sodium. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 2 out of 3 adults are in population groups that should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium.  During 2005-2006 the estimated average intake of sodium for persons in the United States age 2 years and older was 3,436 mg per day.

A diet high in sodium increases the risk of having higher blood pressure, a major cause for  heart disease and  stroke. These diseases are the first and third leading causes of death in the United States.

Seven out of 10 U.S. adults get 2.3 times the healthy amount of salt. It’s putting us in a world of hurt, says Darwin Labarthe, MD, PhD, director of the CDC’s division for heart disease and  stroke prevention.

“This is a very important message,” Labarthe tells WebMD. “There is no room for debate any longer that a high level of salt causes stroke and heart disease, and that lowering salt intake will diminish these very serious health consequences.”

When you eat salt, your blood pressure goes up. And high blood pressure dramatically increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Recent studies definitively show that people who eat too much salt significantly increase their risk of stroke and heart disease.

Where’s all that salt coming from? No, it’s neither the salt shaker on the table nor the box of salt next to the stove. Most of the salt in our diet comes from processed and manufactured foods. Only a small fraction comes from salt added to food at the table or to home cooking.

The American Heart Association says up to 75% of our sodium intake comes from processed foods such as tomato sauce, soup, condiments, canned foods, and prepared mixes.

Salt isn’t the only high-sodium chemical in our diet — there’s also baking soda, baking powder, and MSG. And on food labels, you’ll see it in a myriad of other ingredients such as disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, sodium benzoate, and so on.

We’ve got a taste for salt — but that can change very quickly. The irony is that while we are hurting our health with too much salt, food with much less salt starts tasting good — if not better — after only a few days.

This CDC report appears in the March 27, 2009 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Steps to Reducing Your Sodium: • Choose fresh (or frozen) vegetables instead of canned • Substitute salt seasoning with other flavors such as fresh garlic, onion, lemon or fresh ground pepper • Cook fresh or frozen fish, poultry and meat instead of canned • Rinse canned beans before cooking • Limit your intake of condiments • Avoid MSG • Choose to make your own meals, and avoid restaurant and packaged meals.

Making the change to fresh, non processed, food will take some work and planning, but the health benefits far outweigh the “inconvenience”!

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