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Kris Sollid, RD Date: 4/12/13 

Think for a second about your favorite flavors. Do you have a preference for sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or savory? Me, I’m a salty. We each have our preferences and I appreciate all taste qualities, but there’s just something that I particularly enjoy about salt.

Beyond flavor, I find many “salty” subjects to be fascinating and have written about them here many times: the divide between sodium and potassium recommendations and how much we actually eat; IFIC’s consumer research assessing concern, perception and actions toward sodium; and a personal favorite, blood pressure management strategies. Recently, I’ve been privileged to hear some of the leading experts in the field address many of these important topics.

HOW MUCH SODIUM SHOULD (AND DO) WE EAT?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Certain populations are recommended to further reduce sodium intake to ≤1,500 mg. According to 2009-2010 data from the National Health And Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) Most Americans consume more than the recommended amount with average intakes currently around 3,463 mg. For decades, dietary guidance has encouraged us to reduce the amount of sodium in our diet, but have we made any progress?

While current sodium intake data are generally not disputed, there is some debate about whether our sodium intake has changed over time. A 2010 article in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined this very question. In reviewing 38 studies published between 1957 and 2003, the authors confirmed that we eat more sodium than is recommended and that the amount we consume has not decreased with time. In fact, historically (since 1957 anyway) we eat ~3,526 mg (see Table 2)—a remarkably similar amount to what we eat today (3,463 mg). 

 

 

CALORIES: THREE BIRDS…ONE STONE?

So is this good news or bad news? On the surface it may sound like bad news—we’re not following age-old advice to eat less sodium. But consider that we eat more calories today than we did in 1957 and calories can directly affect how much sodium we take in. According to recent USDA/ERS data, in 1970 we ate 2,076 calories per day and in 2003 we ate 2,614 calories. Those 538 additional calories in our diet undoubtedly contain sodium, yet sodium intake levels have not risen accordingly. Looking on the bright side as I always prefer to do, I’d say this is good news—our total consumption of sodium has remained within a narrow range through the years even though our calories have increased. Calories of course are another issue.

The impact of additional calories (along with lack of exercise and a host of other factors) has led to weight gain in America and weight gain can affect blood pressure. Because adding calories to our diet also generally means more sodium (as previously explained), a reduction in calorie consumption seems to me to be an effective approach to managing weight, blood pressure and sodium intake, wouldn’t you agree? Three birds (weight, blood pressure and sodium intake), one stone (calories).

Clearly, the improved health of our nation isn’t simple. There are many differing perspectives on how our weight, blood pressure, and sodium intake can best be improved. One thing I think we all agree on is that a well-rounded approach is needed and offers us the best chance at success. To that end, my colleagues and I have recently written about the need for more comprehensive communications regarding blood pressure management, so check out the July/August 2012 issue of Nutrition Today for more details.

Until next time, eat well and enjoy your favorite flavors too! 

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