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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sodium : Are you getting too much ?

[This article is written by Dr Zahara Abdul Manaf, a dietitian at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, is also a member of Malaysian Dietitians. I am posting it here for the benefit of those who do not understand the danger of such items in their daily food intake]

Salty food may taste good, but it causes your kidney to work overtime and may cause it to break down. Too much sodium is bad news for health, writes DR ZAHARA ABDUL MANAF.

SOME people are confused between sodium and salt. Some may be familiar with salt but not sodium. Sodium is a mineral essential for human life. It is not the same as salt. Salt is sodium chloride, and is just one part of a molecule of salt.

Most of the sodium in your diet comes from the salt (sodium chloride) that is added during processing or cooking. Malaysian dishes usually use ingredients such as soya sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, prawn paste, etc, which are high in sodium.

Also, many of us like to use flavour enhancers such as Monosodium glutamate (MSG), flavouring cubes, etc in cooking. Fast foods that are known to be high in sodium are also popular entrees among Malaysians.

Essential in small amounts
Your body needs sodium to function properly. Sodium helps to :

- Maintain the right balance of fluids in the body;

- Influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles; and

- Helps transmit nerve impulses.

The kidneys regulate the amount of sodium kept in the body. When sodium levels are low, the kidneys conserve sodium. When levels are high, they excrete the excess amount in urine. If your kidneys are unable to eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to accumulate in your blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, your blood volume increases.

Increased blood volume, in turn result in your heart having to work harder to move more blood through your blood vessels, thus increasing pressure in your arteries. Certain diseases such as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis and chronic kidney disease can lead to an inability to regulate sodium.

Some people are more sensitive to the effects of sodium than others. People who are sodium sensitive tend to retain sodium more easily, leading to excess fluid retention and increased blood pressure. If you're in that group, extra sodium in the diet increases chance of developing high blood pressure, a condition that can lead to cardiovascular and kidney diseases.

How much sodium do you need ?

Various organisations, including the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, have published recommendations for daily sodium intake. Most recommend between 1.5mg to 2.4mg a day (from all sources in your diet) for healthy adults. This amount is equal to about half to one teaspoon of salt. A lower sodium intake has a more beneficial effect on blood pressure.

If you are more than 50 years old, have a health condition such as high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes, you may be more sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of sodium. As a result, aim for a sodium intake at the low end of the range recommended for healthy adults. Talk to a dietitian about the sodium limit that's best for you.

Main sources of sodium in your diet
Sodium in your diet comes mainly from three sources:

- Sodium-containing condiments.: One teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 mg of sodium, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce has 1,005 mg of sodium. Adding these or other sodium-laden condiments to your meals - either while cooking or at the table - raises the sodium count of food.

- Processed and prepared foods: Most processed and prepared foods, such as salted fish, salted eggs, salted vegetables, luncheon meats, processes foods, etc, tend to have a high sodium content. Food manufacturers use salt or other sodium-containing compounds to preserve food and to improve the taste and texture of foods.

- Natural sources of sodium: Sodium occurs naturally in some types of food, including meat, poultry, dairy products and vegetables. For example, one cup of low-fat milk has about 110 mg of sodium.

Be a smart shopper : Read food labels

Taste alone may not tell you which foods are high in sodium. So how do you identify foods high in sodium? The best way to determine sodium content is to read food labels.

Reading labels will help you make wise food choices. Most packaged foods list nutrition information in a section called Nutrition Facts.

The Nutrition Facts label tells you how much sodium is in each serving. It also lists whether salt or sodium-containing compounds are ingredients.

Bear in mind that a food type can have sodium even if it does not contain sodium chloride; this is because sodium is an ingredient used in many types of food additives. Examples of these compounds include :

- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Disodium phosphate
- Sodium alginate
- Sodium nitrate or nitrite

How to cut your sodium intake ?

Here are a few tips to reduce sodium intake in the diet :

- Eat more fresh food and fewer processed food. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium. Also, fresh meat is lower in sodium than luncheon meat, nuggets, hot dogs, sausage and ham are.

- Opt for low-sodium products. If you do buy processed foods, select those that have reduced sodium or salt. Read food label to make a healthy choice.

- Use less salt in cooking and avoid adding other flavour enhancers such as MSG, soy sauce, ketchup, oyster sauce and flavouring cubes.

- Reduce consumption of highly salted foods such as salted fish, salted egg, salted nuts and keropok.

- Flavour your food with herbs, spices and acidic ingredients such as garlic, onion, curry spices, white pepper, lemon grass, vinegar and lemon.

- Preserved foods such as dried anchovies and dried prawns can be soaked in water for a while to reduce its sodium content.

- If eating outside, limit fast food consumption and request for low salt and no MSG added meal whenever possible.

Your taste for salt is acquired, so it is reversible. To unlearn this salty savouring, decrease use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust. Most people find that after a few weeks of cutting their salt intake, they no longer miss it.

Start by using no more than 1/2 teaspoon of added salt daily, then gradually reduce to 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

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