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CUT THE SODIUM CHALLENGE

Toni Ann DiSantis

All that sodium doesn't necessarily come from the salt shaker. Processed foods contribute more than 70 percent of the total sodium found in the American diet.  To help people cut back on salt, try this “Cut the Sodium Challenge”. The goal of the challenge is to help reduce sodium intake by changing the foods we choose.

Overdoing the salt raises the risk of high blood pressure as well as heart disease and stroke. And most Americans consume way too much sodium. Currently the average person gets 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day — or almost one and a half teaspoons. The American Heart Association wants people to get a lot less — no more than 1,500 mg a day — the equivalent of a little less than two-thirds of a teaspoon.

 The taste for sodium is a learned behavior, which means the more you eat it, the more you want it.  But the reverse is also true. As you cut back on the amount of sodium you consume, foods taste saltier over time. A low-salt diet is something within your control. Here are six easy ways to jumpstart a lower-sodium life.

Read labels
 Read food labels and track your sodium consumption … to get an idea of how much you are eating, which will be surprising to many people.  Once people know just how much salt is in the foods they eat, it'll be easier to figure out how to cut back.

Replace sodium-rich foods with produce
Fruits and vegetables fill you up without adding sodium to the diet. And the potassium that's found in fruits and veggies can keep blood pressure at healthy levels, too.

Break bread wisely
Bread and sodium may seem like an unlikely duo, but some breads can contain a hefty amount of salt. Trade loaf-style bread for pita bread or tortillas, which tend to contain less salt.

Cut back on cured meats
They're packed with sodium. Either avoid them altogether or at least look for forms of the product that have the least amount of sodium.

Rethink pizza
The problem with take-out pizza: Between the dough, sauce, cheese and toppings such as olives and pepperoni, sodium can add up. To keep the sodium content down, choose lower-in-sodium sauces and cheese. Pass on the pepperoni and choose healthier toppings such as mushrooms or broccoli.

Speak up in restaurants
Eating out means you don't know how the food you order will be prepared. Many chefs are much more accustomed these days to helping consumers stick with their recommended diets. In a fine-dining establishment, ask for a reduced-sodium option.

Minimizing sodium is more of a challenge in fast food restaurants, however, when condiments and french fries are typically prepared in bulk. In these instances, choosing a salad or plain hamburger, without the bun or condiments. Finding lower-sodium foods in fast food venues “can be done”, but you have to be very selective.