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Surprising High-Sodium Foods

The Huffington Post   Catherine Pearson   First Posted: 03/25/11 09:59 PM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 07:40 PM ET

Your body needs sodium to function. It helps you maintain a balance of fluids, transmit nerve impulses and facilitate the contraction and relaxation of your muscles. Indeed, a recent piece in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explained how the human body has developed numerous "failsafe mechanisms" to ensure sufficient sodium availability. At the most basic, biological level, our body wants and needs it.

But too much of just about anything isn't good, and the same holds true for salt. An excess of sodium chloride in your body overwhelms the kidneys, which aren't able to excrete it properly causing it to accumulate in your blood. That, in turn, can lead to hypertension or high blood pressure, the potential consequences of which are life-threatening, including heart attack and stroke. The issue is so important that WASH, the World Action on Salt Health, has dubbed March 21 through 27 World Salt Awareness Week. The hope is to spread awareness about the potential dangers of too much salt to help combat cardiovascular disease.

The United States Government recommends that most adults intake less than 2,300 mg of salt per day, though it recently added the caveat that adults over the age of 51, in addition who is African American or has hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease (aka, about half of the American public), should limit their intake to 1,500 mg per day. But the CDC estimates that the average sodium intake per person in the U.S. is more than 3,400 mg per day. And it says that most of that comes from processed and restaurant foods.

"That's the issue," said Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale's Prevention Research Center and a HuffPo contributor. "It's really, really hard for the consumer to address the issue of sodium intake themselves, because 80 percent of it comes from packaged foods -- not from the salt shaker."

Even trickier?

"A lot of the times," Katz said, "Salt doesn't come from foods you'd expect."

Breakfast Cereals
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"Pick any commercial brand," Katz said, "And most of them are more concentrated in salt than 50 to 60 percent of the items in the salty snack aisle."

Concentration, he added, is one easy marker consumers can use when determining how salty a food is and whether you should steer clear of it. If you figure you have around 2,000 calories allotted to you a day and the U.S. guidelines limit salt intake at just north of 2,000 mg, you want to be looking for foods that have around a 1:1 ratio of sodium to calories per serving.

"If you rehab your taste buds and switch to pure, whole grain cereals like I have," he said, "you can really taste the salt. Consequently, I can eat Cheerios, but not for breakfast and definitely not with milk. I snack on them when I'm having a beer."
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