Reaction to the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement a couple of weeks ago that it would work to reduce salt in Americans’ diets sparked a lot of discussion about how far the government should go. For now, the FDA is working on developing plans that would allow manufacturers to comply voluntarily, and many were already taking steps to reduce salt.
Have sodium and food reversed roles?
The average person only needs about 1,500 mg. of sodium daily. The average American consumes almost twice that much. American’s have known to cut back on salt consumption for decades, but the majority of salt consumed is not added at the table by consumers. According to a story posted by The New York Times, about 75 percent of salt comes from processed foods. Salt is added to foods by manufacturers and by restaurants as a flavor enhancer. A government-commissioned report reveals that perhaps 100,000 premature deaths a year are from sodium overload and states that salt amounts in some grocery and restaurant foods should be declared unsafe.
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest, posted alarming amounts of sodium in some restaurant foods:
- Chili’s Jalapeno Smokehouse Burger, with Jalapeno Ranch dressing and a side of fries has 6,460 mg of sodium — more than four day’s worth in one meal or almost three teaspoons.
- Chili’s black bean soup has 1,480 mg. of sodium — almost an entire day’s worth for many people.
Such high sodium content in foods makes me wonder if salt’s purpose is no longer merely to enhance the flavor of food. It’s as if salt has become the primary flavor to mask a lack of flavor in many foods.
According to WomenHeart.org, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, some women reported that health care providers failed to accurately diagnose their heart attack by attributing their symptoms to other causes.
Know the facts
In addition to having a greater chance for being incorrectly diagnosed, many women put-off seeking medical attention for heart attack symptoms or being screened for heart disease due to misconceptions. Some alarming facts from WomenHeart.org help dispel some misconceptions:
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.
- Since 1984, more women than men have died of heart disease than men.
- The rate of sudden cardiac death of women in their 30s and 40s in increasing much faster than men of the same age.
- A 2005 study by the American Heart Association showed that only eight percent of primary care physicians and seventeen percent of cardiologists knew that heart disease kills more women than men.
- Studies confirm a disparity between medical treatment administered to women with heart disease as opposed to men with heart disease.
- Not having a family history of heart disease does not mean you will not develop heart disease.
- You can reduce your risk of heart disease with the right information and lifestyle modifications.
Heart attack symptoms in women
Women experiencing a heart attack may have traditional symptoms, such as crushing chest pain, or no symptoms at all. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention and insist on an EKG test or blood enzyme test to determine if your symptoms are being caused by a heart attack:
- Discomfort, tightness,uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes, or comes and goes
- Crushing chest pain
- Pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw, or arms.
- Dizziness or nausea
- Clammy sweats, heart flutters, or paleness
- Unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness – especially with exertion
- Stomach or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
According to a story by Lauren Cox for ABCNews/Health, a recent discovery revealed that mummies housed at the Egyptian National Museum of Antiquities in Cairo showed signs of having had heart disease. Doctors performed a CT scan used in diagnosing people today on the mummies and found calcium deposits in arteries — evidence of plaque build-up that leads to hardening of the arteries. The story also reports the doctors were surprised by their findings: “We thought that we would find it, but maybe very rarely, and we thought that if we did find it, it wouldn’t be so severe,” said Adel H. Allam, the lead author of a letter to the editor.
Is everyone predisposed for heart disease?
People living 3,500 years ago certainly could not have faced the same lifestyle challenges we face today — lack of exercise and a ready supply of processed meats and other foods high in fat and salt. If they still had heart disease in the absence of these factors, perhaps people are predisposed for heart disease. If so, how we expect to avoid the disease today with all the added risk factors?
Does lifestyle impact one’s risk of heart disease?
While certain people are predisposed for a greater risk of heart disease, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the same lifestyle habits that contribute to heart disease today were also present during the lifetimes of the mummies tested. Only the wealthy were mummified in ancient Egypt, which means that mummies tested probably did not do physical labor related to work and likely led sedentary lifestyles. Being wealthy would also mean they had access to meats high in cholesterol, which were preserved in large amounts of salt during that time.
While I’m not relieved that the mummies had heart disease during their lifetime, I am relieved that lifestyle factors may have played a part in the development of their disease. Modifying lifestyle habits and reducing risk factors that contribute to heart disease — a diet high in fat and salt and a lack of exercise — may have prevented heart disease from developing during the lives of these ancient Egyptians just as it does for people living today.
Several years ago, I gave myself a pat on the back after giving up sugary carbonated beverages. I’d consumed one to two carbonated drinks a day for most of my life. That’s over twice the American Heart Associations (AHA) daily recommended limit of 100 calories.
Following that success, I believed anything was possible, so I began to gradually eliminate processed foods from my diet. All the while, I continued to eat deserts regularly, add sugar to my tea , coffee and cereal — and even increased the “dosage” a little. I was convinced that this small amount of sugar was negligible compared to the sugar I once consumed by drinking sugary carbonated beverages and eating processed foods. One day, while placing a new 5-pound bag of sugar into my grocery cart, I realized that I had begun purchasing that much every two to three weeks. I didn’t know that the AHA’s recommended daily limit for added sugar for women was 25 grams or less, and that I was consuming up to 57 grams daily. When sugar was concealed within the processed foods I ate, it had been easy to ignore. But staring down into my grocery cart, I knew that a 5-pound bag of sugar every two weeks was too much for one person.
Several months ago, in a last-ditch effort to reduce my risk for heart-disease, I stopped adding sugar to my food, I’ve avoided eating processed foods, and I have deserts only on occasion. I finally understand that my craving was never for carbonated beverages, a particular processed food, or even deserts, but rather for the regular sugar fixes those foods had been providing me all day, every day for many years.
In addition to sugar, another white granular substance used to enhance the flavor of food is in the news – it’s salt. Many people have cut-back or quit adding salt to prepared foods where possible and limited their consumption of processed foods high in sodium. But according to yesterday’s Washington Post, the average American is still consuming almost twice as much sodium as the recommended daily limit, with 77% of sodium coming from processed foods.
FDA’s ten-year plan
The story also reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is beginning an initiative that will require manufacturers to gradually reduce the amount of sodium added to processed foods over a 10-year span. This would allow Americans to become accustomed to the taste of foods as salt is gradually decreased.
Recommended sodium limits
To reduce your risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended limiting sodium to 1,500 mg daily. The average american consumes 3,435 mg daily. To put things in greater perspective, a teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Campbells Healthy Request chicken noodle soup has 120 calories and 410 mg sodium per 1-cup serving, almost a third of the 1,500 mg daily limit.
Sales for many processed foods would likely suffer without a gradual reduction in salt, so I don’t expect this to be an easy task for the FDA, manufacturers or consumers. Even with a gradual reduction in sodium, some foods may never be palatable without salt. There’s the question of whether inherently salty foods like pickles would need to comply. I’m wondering about olives. Change isn’t going to be easy, but change we must.
A study published yesterday by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) concludes that a correlation exists between dietary added sugars and blood lipid levels among U.S. adults.
The culprit: added sugars
The study defines added sugars as caloric sweeteners added to processed foods by manufacturers or added to prepared foods by consumers to make foods more desirable. Sugar added to oatmeal, tea and coffee; sugary drinks, such Coke and Pepsi, and most processed foods meet the description of “dietary added sugars.” Although complex carbohydrates found naturally in fruits and vegetables, such as corn, beets and bananas, ultimately break down and become chemically similar to added sugars, they are not the same as dietary added sugars.
Trans fats and cholesterol have been known to increase the risk of heart disease by collecting along artery walls and eventually hardening into plaque. Although exactly how is not understood, it’s been known that excessive carbohydrate consumption causes a lipid profile that correlates with increased risk for heart disease.
A balanced diet is essential
That doesn’t mean carbohydrates can be eliminated from your diet to reduce your risk of heart disease; they are essential for good health for the energy and nutrients they provide. Added dietary sugars increase total carbohydrate consumption to unhealthy levels without adding any nutritional value. The answer is to eat a healthy diet with balanced portions of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Added dietary sugars upset the balance because they increase carbohydrate levels and they lack nutrients.
Sugar under a different name
Check the sugar listing on the nutritional facts panel and read the list of ingredients for processed and packaged foods. It’s surprising how often added dietary sugar can be found — it’s even in ketchup and mayonnaise. But it’s not usually listed as “sugar” in the ingredient list. This About.com article has a handy list words for added dietary sugar to lookout for in ingredient lists:
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
- Dehydrated Cane Juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Maple syrup
- Raw sugar
- Rice Syrup
- Sorghum or sorghum syrup
- Turbinado Sugar
Dining out can be challenging for people trying to maintain a heart-healthy diet. According to a report by the National Restaurant Association , the average American eats out more than 4 times a week. Based on three meals a day, that’s nearly 20 percent of total meals eaten during a week.
Recognizing fat on the menu matters
There are times when eating out is preferable or simply just unavoidable — lunch tops the list for the meal eaten out most often. But since food eaten out can be one-fifth of an average week’s meals, it’s important to learn how to limit the amount of fat in foods ordered.
Meals eaten out aren’t served with an ingredient list or food labels, so it can be difficult to know which foods will help to maintain a heart-healthy diet. With a few pointers, you can recognize which menu items are most likely to be high in fat and which foods are better bets. And with a few modifications, a fat meal can become leaner.
Tips for reducing fat
Make better choices when dining out with these tips from American Dietetic Association:
- Choose foods from the menu that have been baked, braised, grilled, broiled or poached. There is usually less fat required in cooking.
- Avoid foods that are described as batter fried, pan fried, creamed, crispy or breaded.
- Order sandwiches without mayonnaise or bacon. Ask that mayonnaise and sauces to be placed on the side and use sparingly.
- To avoid eating too much before the meal arrives, ask to have the bread and chips delivered with your meal.
- Replace French fries and chips with fruit or a baked potato. Skip the sour cream and butter altogether and top baked potatoes with salsa and a sprinkle of cheese instead.
- If portions are large, split the meal with your dining partner or take the other half home.
For a complete list of tips, visit the American Dietetic Association’s Web site.