The long-awaited 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has finally arrived — only 13 months late. I’ve read and reread the recommendations and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out what took so long for these revisions to come forward. There isn’t any significant change from the 2005 Dietary Guidelines.
The biggest news in the 2010 guidelines is the salt recommendations. A lifetime of high sodium intake puts your body at risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stomach cancer. So it is good that the guidelines now specifically recommend reducing sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day — about three-quarters of a teaspoon — for people over age 50; all African-Americans, since they are prone to developing high blood pressure; anyone who already has high blood pressure; anyone with kidney disease; and anyone with diabetes.
In 2005, the guidelines suggested only that these groups “aim” to limit their sodium intake to that amount. Now, the language is more direct.
If you are in one of these groups, which include at least half of all Americans, how do you work at reducing your salt intake to the recommended daily limit? On average, it is estimated that American men consume about 2 teaspoons salt and women consume about 1½ teaspoons salt each day. Most of this comes from prepackaged foods, in which salt is used as a preservative and flavor enhancer.
Preference for salt is an acquired taste. If you try to switch to a low salt diet overnight, you will find that your meals will not be the least bit satisfying. It takes a few months to reprogram your taste buds. The best plan is to reduce your sodium intake gradually. Cook with less salt. For example, don’t use salt when cooking pasta, rice, hot cereal or vegetables. Taste your food first, and then add salt if you need it.
Use fewer prepackaged foods and cook more meals at home from scratch. Use spices and fruits and fruit juices for flavoring. Try herbs and spice rubs for meats. Cinnamon and apples go well with chicken or pork. Lemon and dill enhance the flavor of fish. Try some new recipes. Don’t rely entirely on the foods that you usually prepare because you’ll want the flavor to be the same.
Many people believe that kosher salt or sea salt are better for them than regular table salt. Kosher salt and sea salt have slightly different flavors than table salt but they have an almost identical amount of sodium per gram. Any coarse salt will have less sodium per teaspoon because the granules are larger so less of it fits into a teaspoon.
Salt and salt substitutes are available. Some of these products contain potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride, which should be avoided if you have kidney disease. Some contain sodium chloride as well as potassium chloride. Others contain less sodium per teaspoon than regular table salt. You may want to try some of these products to help you get through the taste adaptation period.
Sodium intake is a health issue, but it is not the priority. Take a look around. The biggest problem in this country is our weight, not our salt intake. I wish the 2010 Dietary Guidelines had been written with a stronger pen.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian who lives in Athens, Maine. She writes a regular column on diet and nutrition and welcomes reader questions and comments. Read more of her columns and post questions at www.bangordailynews.com or e-mail her at GeorgiaMaineMSDRCDE@gmail.com.