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Target High-Sodium Foods at Home

Christy's Story: “My husband and I are both pretty health conscious. We shop for organic and local foods, avoid fast food, and cook at home for the family. I thought we were doing a good job, until I took a long, hard look at the products I relied on most of the time. I certainly didn't realize how much sodium we were eating! I figured that our intake would be way under the national average [3,400 mg sodium a day], but I was so wrong. When I started adding up the sodium that was sitting on my pantry shelves and in my refrigerator and freezer, I was astounded. I had no idea how much sodium was in some of my go- to staples like tomato sauce, garlic salt, and mustard, not to mention all those boxes of rice pilaf! Since that wake-up call, I'm a much more careful shopper. Now I always check the nutrition facts panel for sodium. I still love to try new foods, and I really like the convenience of packaged side dishes, but I am much smarter about how often I use them and how much I serve.”

Every household has its own unique “food culture.” The food culture in your family affects the way you think about food and eating, as well as the food-related decisions you make. If you are an experienced cook with three children, your needs will be very different from those of a young single guy who doesn't like to cook, and of course, the food in the two kitchens will reflect these differences. Yet, despite their very disparate cooking habits and food preferences, these two people will probably find they have one thing in common: an excess of sodium in their kitchens.

Almost everyone faces the same challenges when it comes to trying to keep sodium low, and chances are you do, too. Take a moment to think about your food culture and how it affects your eating habits and how you shop for food. For example, you may believe that because you're cooking at home, you have your sodium under control, but if you use a lot of packaged and processed foods, you may be surprised to see how much they contribute to your family's sodium intake. Next, get ready to do a “sodium spring cleaning” in your kitchen to identify the sodium-filled foods and beverages that you can rethink, replace, or reduce.

SODIUM SHAKEDOWN STRATEGIES

✓ Review your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to find the high-sodium foods and beverages.

✓ Identify the patterns and habits that reinforce your use of high-sodium foods.

✓ Rethink your choices to find the foods you can live without.

✓ Replace the highest-sodium items in your kitchen with lower-sodium or sodium-free alternatives.

✓ Reduce portions of high-sodium products and/or how often you use them to reduce your overall sodium intake.

✓ Repeat a kitchen sodium sweep after a few weeks.

ASSESS YOUR SODIUM SOURCES IN YOUR KITCHEN

As soon as you're ready to tackle the job of reducing the sodium in your kitchen, take an inventory of all your foods and beverages. Do a methodical, shelf-by-shelf search of all your pantry items, checking the nutrition facts panels on them and writing down how much sodium is in a serving of each item. Make a note of any foods that are not labeled so you can look them up separately; the charts in Part III, “Sodium Sense by Food Type — with Recipes,” are handy starting points for this information. When you've finished with the pantry, move on to the refrigerator, then the freezer. As you document the sodium in each food, your base of knowledge will expand, and you'll quickly be able to see which items are relatively high and which are low.

The more thorough you are, the better overview you'll have of the sources of sodium in your kitchen. Putting in a little effort now will provide a healthy payback in the long run; and as a bonus, once you've recorded sodium levels for the things you buy regularly, you can just jot down any additional information for new products as you buy them. Many of the items in your kitchen are staples that you use again and again, such as the canned broth you use to make soup and the sauces you use often because your family loves them on pasta. These go- to foods form the basis of your personal food culture, so they are the obvious place for you to start making healthy changes.

While it's natural to focus on finding the items that are highest in sodium, don't be tempted to ignore the foods that might seem insignificant. How often you eat something matters, too, and very often, it's the small amounts of condiments, dressings, and sauces that can rack up sodium surprisingly fast. Whether it's tomato sauce, ketchup, or curry paste, when you add a little bit here and a little bit there, before you know it, you've added thousands of milligrams of sodium to your diet.

DURING YOUR SODIUM SWEEP, LOOK FOR THESE COMMON SOURCES OF SODIUM:

In the pantry

• Packaged foods that include added salt (by itself or in the form of seasoning or flavorings), such as rice-based dishes, pasta-based dishes, and sauce mixes

• Canned foods that contain added salt or sauce, such as beans, vegetables (including tomato products), soups, and tuna

• Cereals, crackers, chips, and breads

• Baking mixes

• Baked goods

• Condiments and sauces

In the spice rack

• Seasoning blends

• Flavored salts, such as garlic salt and onion salt

In the fridge

• Dairy products, such as cheese, sour cream, and milk

• Salad dressings, condiments, and spreads

• Deli meats and hot dogs

• Beverages, such as sport drinks and mixers

In the freezer

• Poultry, meat, and seafood

• Vegetable combinations with sauces

• Prepared entrées, sides, and breakfast foods

• Fast-food entrées, such as pizza, chicken nuggets, and burritos

In the medicine cabinet

• Prescription and over-the-counter drugs, such as antacids and many antibiotics

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