ATLANTA - Put down that salt shaker and step back from the table.That's a one-sentence summary of the latest public health alert on sodium intake from health watchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC report concludes that 70 percent of U.S. adults should limit sodium intake - a number far greater than many had expected.
Although guidelines for daily sodium intake were published in 2005, the percentage of people who should be following the lower limit hadn't been figured out yet. Talk about spicing things up.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend healthy adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (about one teaspoon of salt) per day. A lower limit of 1,500 milligrams per day is recommended for adults with high blood pressure, those older than 40 and all African-American adults.
Most of us consume about 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day, so it looks like just about everyone will have to shake some of their salt habit to follow current health advice.
Cutting salt is not simple. Fortunately, there are good minds with discriminating taste buds working on lowering sodium content of popular foods - even fast foods.
Chick-fil-A dietitian Jodie Worrell says there's an industrywide movement to trim salt content from menus.
"Sodium removal is a difficult project. Trans-fat removal took two years," she said.
So Worrell's Chick-fil-A product development team is working to find a win-win solution for taste and health.
"Taste panels meet every other Monday. For instance, we are looking at ways to add salt topically on fries so you get the salty flavor with less total sodium."
Another challenge for restaurants is that consumer demand for lower-fat foods meant adding flavor with other ingredients, such as vinaigrette dressings and spice blends, which are often pretty high in sodium.
If you do choose to limit sodium intake, nutrition labels on packaged foods list sodium content to help you keep track.
But when it comes to dining out, you're often on your own. Some restaurants provide sodium information on their Web sites, so that's helpful. But in general, here are a few tips for dining out:
- Be salt savvy. The main source of sodium in the diet is table salt (sodium chloride or NaCl), which is 40 percent sodium by weight. 1 teaspoon of salt equals 2,325 milligrams of sodium.
- Taste buds adjust. Scientists who study taste have found that when you cut back on salt, you get used to it in about three weeks. You may even discover the real flavor of foods.
- Note that pickles, cheese, smoked meats, gravies, sauces, salad dressings, barbecue sauces, soy sauce and broths are usually high in sodium, so use sparingly.
- Ask the server for help. Request that foods be prepared without added salt, or ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side. For low-sodium dressings, try lemon or a splash of vinegar.
- Look for menu items you can season yourself at the table, such as a baked potato instead of mashed potatoes.
- Do a light shake. Surface salt, such as a light shake on scrambled eggs or fresh, sliced tomatoes, can give you the salt flavor hit you crave with just a small sprinkling.