Shake Off the Salt Habit

I took my family to ‘sodium city’ this weekend. Although I try to be conscious of what I eat and feed my family, in the rush of activities (and not wanting to be the food police) I let things slide. We had a quick bite at the local Taqueria and headed out to a movie. A small confession is that I smuggled in microwave popcorn in my big bag, but even choosing a ‘smarter’ brand had a lot of salt. The other culprits for our evening? Salsa, cheese, and the other yummy elements of eating out.

So did popcorn and tacos tip the scales? Well, for sodium levels (and fat too), the answer is yes. But it’s all a balance. If you allow the popcorn and pizza one day, then try and get veggies, whole grains and some lean protein the next. There are some great resources and tools available on-line that can help, if, like me, your head is abuzz with trying to remember how much is enough of this or that nutrient.

If you want to see a quick and fun example of how your choices add up, try out this interactive tool from BC Healthy Families – Sodium Sense. Make a ‘virtual’ sandwich and see which of your favourite toppings tip the balance on sodium. I was a little startled that ham changed the balance as far as it did!

Food labels when you’re shopping. If you’re looking at shaving off some time and buying pre-packaged foods at the grocery store, check the facts. Health Canada has a quick guide to remind you of which levels to check first. The %DV or Daily Value is what to check, and if the sodium for a serving is over 15% then you might want to give that product a miss, or balance out lower sodium foods for the rest of that day.

Nutrition information for eating out. This may involve some thinking ahead, but most chain restaurants do have nutrition information available on-line, and some are involved with Heart and Stroke’s HealthCheckTM and Informed Dining Program that will provide the information for healthier choices right in the menu.

And why is reducing sodium important? Here’s the lowdown from the Heart and Stroke Foundation:

  • Humans require a small amount of sodium in order to maintain health. However, in some people, too much sodium causes blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.  It has been estimated that excess sodium intake is responsible for one million hypertension cases in Canada today.
  • Sodium is primarily added to foods to act as a preservative and to enhance taste.
  • On average, adult Canadians consume about 3,500 mg (roughly 1 ½ tsp) of sodium per day. This is significantly above the level recommended as adequate (1200 to 1500 mg per day – about ½ tsp) or even the level recommended as the upper tolerable limit for health, which is 2300 mg per day (approximately 1 tsp).
  • Most of the sodium Canadians consume (77%) comes from processed foods sold in grocery stores and in food service outlets. Only about 11% is added during preparation or at the table, with the remainder occurring naturally in foods.

So, I’ll continue to try and make healthier choices, avoiding processed foods where I can, and balancing out the less healthy choices that I also make from time to time. The 80/20 rule is one that I use to balance my own thinking, but knowing where you are in that equation is half the battle!


Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Programs and Policy
May 2012

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