Saturday, May 10, 2008

You Won't Believe What's Hidden In Food

Salt. Lots and lots of salt.

We should consume no more than one teaspoon of salt a day. Guess what? Chances are you're getting almost twice that--and don't even know it--because so much sodium is "hidden" in processed foods from spaghetti sauce to canned soup to frozen dinners, reports The Associated Press. If you want to cut down on salt, a known risk factor for high blood pressure, it's hard to do.

How can you find the hidden salt? Like any good puzzle, you need to know the code words. Obviously, if you see the word "salt" on a food label, you know salt is in the product. But baking soda and MSG contain sodium, too. On restaurant menus, the words "pickled," "cured," "broth," and "soy sauce" all indicate high sodium.

That is why the American Public Health Association, backed by dozens of other health and medical groups, has issued a challenge to the food industry: Cut in half the "hidden" sodium in food over the next 10 years.

The problem: Salt makes food taste good. It's really hard to change the recipe by eliminating the salt and still retain the product's taste. When manufacturers have created low-sodium products, they haven't sold well. And other spices, which would make the food taste good, are more expensive than salt. Restaurant food is also loaded with salt.

The solution: We consumers have to demand low-salt alternatives. Until we make a fuss--as we're doing now with high-fat foods--manufacturers probably won't reduce the sodium.

"There's only so much people can worry about when it comes to food," nutritionist Bonnie Liebman of the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest acknowledged to AP. "But the fact is high blood pressure rates are going up, the evidence that salt raises blood pressure has only gotten stronger, and people need to hear that message."

High blood pressure--or hypertension--is bad for your heart, brain, and kidneys. While being overweight and sedentary are the primary causes of high blood pressure, too much salt is also a contributor. Dr. Stephen Havas of the University of Maryland told AP that just reducing by 20 percent the number of people who suffer from hypertension could save 150,000 lives a year.

How can you take personal control and reduce the hidden salt in your diet? AP reports these suggestions from the National Institutes of Health and the American Public Health Association:

  • When you cook, eliminate all salt. Instead, sprinkle a smidgen of salt on your food at the table. Do use other spices in cooking, such as lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and salt-free seasoning blends. Don't spice up your food with MSG, soy sauce, and catsup as they are loaded with sodium.
  • Avoid canned vegetables. Stick with fresh or plain frozen veggies. Beware! Frozen vegetables with sauces have added sodium.
  • Look for convenience foods that have "reduced sodium" on the labels.
  • Cut back on frozen dinners and packaged mixes.
  • Limit the amount of food you eat that is cured, including bacon.
  • When you do eat canned foods, rinse them with water to remove some of the sodium. This works especially well with canned tuna fish.
  • When you eat in a restaurant, request that your food be prepared without salt. Most restaurants will try to accommodate this.

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