The American Heart Association is the nation’s premier authority on heart health. The newest book from the AHA library, Eat Less Salt (Clarkson Potter, March 2013), makes eating less salt an achievable goal. We recently sat down with the AHA to chat about their new book and how we can all reduce our sodium intake.
The Recipe Club: Isn’t some sodium good for you?
American Heart Association: Yes, our bodies do need some sodium, but not nearly the amount most of us consume each day. Most people need only about 500 mg of sodium a day for their bodies to function properly.
The Recipe Club: How much sodium is too much?
American Heart Association: The American Heart Association recommends that everyone eat less than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day, so any more than that is considered too much. Currently, most Americans consume an average of 3,400 mg per day—more than double the recommendation for good heart health.
The Recipe Club: What are the consequences of eating too much sodium?
American Heart Association: The more sodium you take in, the higher your blood pressure is likely to be. If you have high blood pressure, you are at much higher risk for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. The effects of high blood pressure can have deadly consequences, especially if left untreated. The bottom line is: too much sodium = higher blood pressure = higher risk of disease and disability.
The Recipe Club: Aren’t I too young to worry about sodium?
American Heart Association: Everyone, regardless of age, needs to be mindful of his or her sodium intake. Eating a high-sodium diet is a major cause of high blood pressure, and although blood pressure usually increases as we age, youth is not a guaranteed antidote—even babies can have high blood pressure. The incidence of this disease in children and young people is increasing, with serious health consequences. Most incidences of high blood pressure in teens and young adults are preventable, because they usually result from an unhealthy lifestyle, including a diet that is too high in sodium.
The Recipe Club: Where does most of the sodium in our diets come from?
American Heart Association: The vast majority of the sodium we eat—slightly more than 75 percent—comes from processed foods, including restaurant foods.
The Recipe Club: I don’t put salt on my food, so I’m probably eating low-sodium anyway, right?
American Heart Association: Probably not. Only 6 percent of the sodium we consume comes from the salt we add to our food at the table and even less than that—5 percent—comes from the salt we add when cooking at home.
The Recipe Club: I often eat at restaurants when traveling for business. How do I watch my sodium when dining out?
American Heart Association: In Eat Less Salt, you’ll learn several strategies to better control your sodium intake while dining out, including rethinking your choices to find menu items and add-ons (like cheese) that you can do without, replacing high-sodium dishes with lower-sodium alternatives, and reducing the amount of food you eat.
The Recipe Club: I buy healthy foods and cook well-balanced meals for my family almost every night, so can I assume that we are eating a lower-sodium diet?
American Heart Association: Not necessarily. If you use any processed or packaged foods—even if they are considered “healthy” such as canned beans or vegetables or whole grains such as rice or cereals–you probably are eating a lot more sodium than you realize. Until you check the sodium in the foods you buy, you really don’t know how much sodium you and your family are consuming. Eat Less Salt dedicates an entire chapter to targeting high-sodium foods at home and provides strategies to reduce sodium in the kitchen.
The Recipe Club: What are some popular foods that are particularly high in sodium?
American Heart Association: According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 40 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from only 10 types of food:
• Breads and rolls
• Cold cuts and cured meats
• Fresh and processed chicken and turkey
• Sandwiches, including burgers
• Pasta dishes with sauce
• Mixed meat dishes (such as meatloaf with sauce)
• Snacks (such as chips, pretzels, and popcorn)
The Recipe Club: What kinds of recipes can I expect to find in the book?
American Heart Association: Eat Less Salt offers more than 60 recipes. They include lower-sodium versions of take-out favorites like beef and broccoli, hot-and-sour soup, chicken nuggets, and pizza; classic comfort foods such as country-fried chicken, lasagna, chili, chicken potpie, potato salad, and green bean casserole; as well as popular restaurant dishes including tortilla soup, pad Thai, enchiladas, and chicken Parmesan!