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Panel suggests Americans cut salt intake

June 21, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The New England Journal of Medicine estimates 99,000 heart attacks a year could be prevented if Americans cut down their daily salt intake to just a half a teaspoon. But slashing salt can be tough."Salt equals taste in classical cooking. That is what you're taught. But salt is salt and there's really not a huge replacement for it," said Cal-A-Vie executive chef Jason Graham.

Spa chefs like Graham rise to the challenge of reducing fat and sugar out of food while trying to keep flavor, but now it's salts turn, as excess sodium causes our blood pressure to soar, which over time can lead to stroke or heart failure.

Dietitian Linda Illingworth says most don't realize a small reduction in salt could save about 4.5 million lives annually. But where you find the most sodium is surprising.

"Nine percent of sodium exists in the food naturally, the consumer only adds about 11 percent at the table," said Illingworth.

Which means 80 percent of your intake is coming from restaurant and prepared food, like what you buy at the market.

"You might be very surprised to see that your cereal has the same amount of sodium as one ounce of potato chips," said Illingworth.

So it's time to read labels. A low sodium food has 140 milligrams per serving. A meal, no more than 500 to keep in line with a 1,500 milligram total for the day -- if you are over 40 years of age. If you are younger then the serving goes up to 2,400 milligrams daily.

Since most of us don't cook from scratch and food manufacturers aren't lower the sodium there are a few quick and easy things you can do to cut the salt from your meal.

Try incorporating lemon juice, hot sauce, flavored vinegars and fresh herbs to flavor food. All offer a zip to a meal without sodium.

Canned beans come in a sodium solution so rinse before use. Season hot air popcorn with a spray of olive oil and chili powder and make your own salad dressing. All these tips can save you tablespoons of salt.

"I like to put salt in things, if I'm going to do it, in the beginning so that it starts to cook from the inside out," said Graham.

Graham cautions most restaurants salt all during prepping, so when dining out get steamed vegetables and rice, for example, so only the protein portion has salt, which should be more than enough.


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