A diet containing too much sodium, one of the two components in salt, can lead to hypertension, which is one of the leading risk factors associated with stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. And yet, every day, most Canadians consume more than twice the amount of sodium recommended by Health Canada.
Reducing the amount of sodium we eat in this country could save thousands of lives. In the 1970s, Finland launched a national campaign to reduce salt intake and cardiovascular disease in general. The campaign resulted in a 3,000-milligram reduction in sodium intake per day among Finns, with a corresponding decline in death rates from stroke and coronary artery disease of 75 to 80 percent. Canadians still consume too much sodium, however.
Excess sodium in the diet causes the body to retain water, placing an added burden on the heart and blood vessels. It is estimated that 20 percent of heart attacks are caused by excess sodium, which represents 14,000 avoidable deaths per year. According to Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the recommended daily intake of sodium is 1,500 mg per day and the maximum tolerable intake is 2,300 mg per day. But in Canada, we consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium every day! Most of this sodium comes from prepared meals, processed foods and restaurant meals. Approximately 10 percent is naturally present in foods, and 10 percent is added while cooking or at the table.
Table salt is not the only source of sodium: it is also found in other ingredients commonly used to prepare foods, such as baking soda, baking powder and anything containing the word “sodium” in its name. The biggest sources of sodium in our food include bread, ham and other deli meats, pizza, soup (cans or envelopes), sandwiches, cheese, prepared meals sold at grocery stores, and snack foods.
The solution to reduce your sodium intake is to read food labels and eat home-made meals as often as possible. As you reduce your sodium intake, your body will get used to lower amounts of salt and you will find yourself preferring foods that are not as salty!