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Links: Sodium and Portion Sizing

Posted Oct 22 2008 4:50pm
Got a sugar/salt addiction?

The hidden ingredients in the convenience foods we now eat so much of really add up. There's salt and sugar lurking in just about everything, and the culprit is that much more dangerous when you can't really notice that it's there. Salad dressings and ketchup and many other condiments are often surprisingly loaded with sugar, and when there isn't a recommended amount of sugar we should be consuming, this makes it especially difficult to judge just how addicted we can become to these kinds of things (check out Susan's blog if you're interested in learning more about the struggle to kick the sugar habit!). It is very frustrating to look at a nutrition label and be able to see all of the percentage of daily values for the various nutrients, and then see that for sugar the grams are listed, but there is no suggested percentage. Keep in mind that 1 teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams of sugar (oh my that's a lot of teaspoons of sugar in one can of soda!).

How much sugar should we be getting? And what is a consumer to do? Comparing the sugar values with different brands and foods is just about the only thing you can do in this situation. My personal choice is to try to eat the natural sugars (from milk, apples, dates and so forth) and limit the added sugars when possible. But when you start to pay attention, it is surprising to discover just how much we add extras like sugar and salt to just about everything.

I was aware that when it comes to salt in particular, 2300 mg is the absolute most we should be consuming in a day as the tolerable upper limit (meaning, if we go beyond that, it could reach toxicity levels. Too much of anything, as we all know, is never a good thing!). However, until I read this article, I was not aware that 500 mg is more than a satisfactory amount of salt for us to have in a day!

To put this into perspective: 2300 mg of sodium is equal to one teaspoon of salt. I encourage you right now to go to the kitchen, get out a measuring spoon, and measure out a teaspoon of salt (go on- I'll still be here when you get back!). Done? Good. Now consider just how much salt you add to what you eat- whether in cooking or as a seasoning on food. In fact, take that one teaspoon and every time you want to eat salt today, take it specifically from that teaspoon to see how much salt you actually use in a day. At the end of the day, consider how much salt you also get from the packaged foods you eat. A can of chickpeas can contain as much as 30% of your daily intake of sodium in 1 cup (the "daily intake" being 2300 mg). Packets of soup, soy sauce, and nearly all frozen dinners have similar values of sodium.

I think that it is good to be aware of the amount of sodium in our diets because cutting back can significantly better our health. And the other major benefit to reducing our salt intake is that you can begin to taste the food underneath all that salt! And isn't it delicious? Try playing around with different spices to replace some of the salt and you'll likely find all sorts of interesting and delicious combinations. Enjoying our food and experimenting with it can be such a wonderful experience!

And I'll take a double serving of gravy, and some extra cheese, and a refill on the Coke...

It's certainly not new to hear that portions are getting bigger and bigger, and so controlling portion sizes is something that a lot of people are working on (read: struggling with) in efforts to achieve and maintain a healthy balance. Leslie Beck wrote an article discussing this very subject, and also offers the usual suggestions for portion control and portion sizing. I always like a good reminder on the basics of taking control of our portions, although if you take a look at the comments following her article, it is evident that not all people appreciate such tips. As Brian Wansink discusses in Mindless Eating, even though we might not realize that we're eating far more than is necessary, we're still doing it (side note: I love his story on the man who had been a bartender for over a decade and yet when he was instructed to pour a shot into a larger glass, he repeatedly poured far more than a single shot- and yet he pours shots every day! It just goes to show that eyeballing portions can lead to a huge amount of distortion).

The discussion following Leslie Beck's article goes on to contemplate what we eat vs how we eat. I am inclined to think that it is both what we eat and how we eat that make the difference. We need our nutrients, but having an over-nutrition problem is not desirable! And now that I have seen the picture of popcorn on Brian Wansink's website, I think I might have to go and make some of the air popped version... salt free:)
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