Dietary Sodium: Less is More

National Kidney Foundation Joins Major National Initiative to Help Reduce Americans' Salt Intake

NEW YORK, NY (May 4, 2010) — When it comes to dietary sodium, less is certainly best, yet Americans today consume 50% more than the recommended daily quantities of sodium, according to a recent Institute of Medicine Report. The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) joins 45 health organizations in teaming up to combat dangerous levels of dietary sodium as part of the National Salt Reduction Initiative. The Initiative's goal is to reduce the country's salt intake by at least 20% over the next five years.

"Diets high in sodium increase blood pressure levels. High blood pressure damages the kidneys over time, and is a leading cause of kidney failure. As high blood pressure rates have increased, kidney disease has spiraled to the point where it now affects 26 million Americans. Strategies that reduce salt intake for the masses can have the effect of lowering blood pressure and that may be beneficial in easing the burden of chronic kidney disease in this country," says Bryan Becker, MD, NKF President.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine report recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium, or one teaspoon, per day for the general population age two and above. For those at risk for kidney disease, the National Kidney Foundation suggests limiting sodium intake to that level as well.

To help Americans reduce salt intake, the National Kidney Foundation offers the following tips:

  • Use fresh foods, rather than packaged foods. Fresh cuts of beef, chicken or pork contain natural sodium, but the content is still much less than the hidden extra sodium added during processing in products like bacon or ham. If a food item keeps well in the fridge for days or weeks, the sodium content is too high.
  • Choose fresh fruit and vegetables as well since they are very low in sodium. Canned and frozen fruits are also low in sodium, as these usually don't contain added sodium.
  • When buying frozen vegetables, choose those that are labeled "fresh frozen" and do not contain added seasoning or sauces.
  • Compare various brands of the same food item until you find the one that has the lowest sodium content, since this will vary from brand to brand.
  • Select spices or seasonings that do not list sodium on their labels, i.e. choose garlic powder over garlic salt.
  • Before dining out, do your research. Visit the restaurant's website which should list the sodium content of various dishes served there. Alternatively, when you're at the restaurant and ready to order, you can request that the dish be served without salt.
  • Beware of products that don't taste especially salty but still have high sodium content, such as cottage cheese.

"It's critically important for everyone to begin reading food labels as a matter of course. Sodium content is always listed on the label. Sometimes the high sugar content in a product like apple pie, can mask the high sodium content so it's important to check every label for sodium content," says Linda Ulerich, RD, member of NKF's Council on Renal Nutrition.

As mandated by the FDA, products that are labeled "sodium-free" contain five mg or less per serving. Those that are labeled "reduced sodium" contain 25% less than the original version of the product and those labeled "light in sodium" must be 50% less than the original. According to the National Kidney Foundation, it's important to know how many mg of sodium per serving are contained in each product, reduced version or not, so that each individual can fit it into his or her own daily allowance.

Ulerich says the 2,300 mg of sodium should be balanced throughout the day, with one-third of that quantity eaten at each meal. "The body prefers not having all its sodium in one meal, so spread it around and divide it evenly throughout the day. It's easier on the kidneys not to have to accommodate the sodium load all at once," continues Ulerich.

As part of the National Salt Reduction Initiative, 16 food and restaurant companies have committed to reducing the dangerous level of salt in the American diet. The companies include such giants as Kraft and Unilever, as well as the Starbucks and Subway restaurant chains.

The National Salt Reduction Initiative includes two-year and four-year salt reduction targets for 62 packaged food and 25 restaurant food categories. The Initiative will track sales and sodium levels in the food supply to monitor the companies' progress toward their goals. Altogether, these 16 companies have made commitments in 80% of the packaged food categories and 60% of the restaurant categories.

"Salt is an acquired taste," says Ulerich. "Most of us have gotten used to the taste of highly-salted food by eating this way as kids, but people can actually give up the salt shaker and retrain their taste buds. It takes about 6-8 weeks to get used to eating food with much lower quantities of salt, but once it's done, it's actually difficult to eat foods like potato chips because they taste way too salty."

The National Kidney Foundation is dedicated to preventing and treating kidney and urinary tract diseases, improving the health and well being of individuals and families affected by these diseases and increasing availability of all organs for transplantation.

For more information on kidney disease and high blood pressure, visit www.kidney.org