Labels allow for sodium-smart shopping TO YOUR HEALTH

ON CALL

June 22, 1993|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,Contributing Writer

Q: My doctor has told me to reduce my use of salt as part of the treatment of my high blood pressure. I wonder whether lowering salt will do any good. Also, my wife and I have been reading the labels on various foods, but we can't figure out what they mean.

A: The amount of daily salt (sodium chloride) intake by the average American, 9 to 12 grams per day (or 3.5 to 5 grams of sodium), far exceeds bodily needs. Reducing salt use to less than 6 grams a day can lower blood pressure significantly in people with established hypertension. The impact of sodium restriction is particularly great in older people, African-Americans, individuals with the highest blood pressure and those with a family history of hypertension. Although sodium restriction also is recommended as a preventive measure, sodium intake appears to play only a small role in causing high blood pressure. The first step in a lower sodium diet is to remove the salt shaker from the table and to stop adding salt in cooking. Canned or packaged soups, canned vegetables, deli products, smoked and dried meats and fast foods are usually especially high in sodium. Also high in sodium are bottled or canned olives, pickles and many packaged seasonings, sauces and dressings.

The designations for the sodium content of foods are as follows:

* Sodium-free -- less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving

* Very low sodium -- less than 35 milligrams of sodium per serving

* Light in sodium -- processing has reduced the usual sodium content of the food by at least 50 percent

* Reduced sodium -- processing has reduced the sodium content of the food by at least 25 percent.

* No salt added or unsalted -- although no salt was added during processing, the product does contain sodium naturally present in the food.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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