Thursday, March 26, 2009

Simple Facts About Sodium

A pinch of salt maybe a boost to life but too much salt can trigger problems. Many people know the negatives of salt but few know why we need salt or how much is needed for health.

Salt is a combination of the minerals sodium and chloride and it is the sodium that is the focus of interest when it comes to how much salt is okay to consume. Salt is forty percent sodium and sixty percent chloride. Sodium, along with potassium, acts to regulate fluid balance in the body. Sodium also aids nerve impulse transmission, regulates blood pressure and acts with other minerals to help muscle relaxation. In addition to its role in the body sodium is important to foods.

Sodium acts to bring out the flavor of foods and also provides flavor itself but it plays several other roles in food. Sodium serves as a preservative in foods protecting them from the growth of bacteria, yeast and mold thus preventing food spoilage or foodborne illness. This usage of salt is the reason processed or packaged foods contain sodium. Sodium or salt is also important to texture in baked goods made with yeast. Sodium also affects fermentation in cheese processing and the development of bread dough. And finally sodium helps hold together processed meats like sausage, salami and pepperoni.

The amount of sodium needed from the diet is much below the amount consumed. While there is no recommended daily intake for sodium the minimum amount considered to be adequate for health is 500 milligrams. Currently the average intake of sodium is 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams per day. This excess is excreted by healthy people but can be a trigger for hypertension or kidney disease in those with a genetic predisposition to those diseases.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a maximum intake of 2,300 milligrams per day. Processed foods provide about 80 percent of the sodium in food. Table salt and the sodium that occurs naturally in foods provide the remainder of the sodium we consume. Sodium content is a required listing on all food labels so it is possible to monitor your intake by reading labels. In addition you can detect the presence of sodium by learning to look for the words salt, soda, or sodium. The words cured, brine, smoked and pickled can also indicate a higher sodium content so check the label.

Food labels may indicate that the sodium content is reduced if they meet the guidelines set forth by the Food and Drub Administration. Common terms include the following.
· Sodium or salt-free – Less than five milligrams of sodium per serving
· Low sodium – 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving
· Reduced or less sodium – At least 25% less sodium in a standard serving
Making the switch to lower sodium intake might take a little time since the taste buds need to adjust to the absence of sodium but reducing intake gradually can help.

Tips for the Week
· Check food labels for the amount of sodium
· Read the online menu for sodium content of menu items
· Limit intake of processed or packaged foods
· Taste foods before adding salt
· Season with pepper or other spices
· Enjoy processed meats like pepperoni, bacon, corned beef and salami less often

Friday, March 13, 2009

Enjoy A Bite of Chocolate

If you’re searching for a sweet treat but don’t want to throw off your healthful eating plan too much consider adding a small amount of dark chocolate.

Chocolate, more specifically cocoa, has been a part of medicinally treatment for centuries with early usage going back to use for stomach or intestinal complaints to the current interest related to heart disease. Cocoa, like all other plants, contains a wide variety of phytochemicals but is rich in flavanol which seems to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Flavanol’s help keep blood vessels healthy thus allowing for continuous flow of blood preventing blood clots. Other research studies have looked at cocoa and blood pressure reduction with some positive outcomes.

Studies continue to show that inclusion of cocoa may provide positive health benefits but questions remain in terms of how much, how often and do these benefits translate to chocolate. At the current time studies make it clear that the health benefits are found in the cocoa so chocolate would have to contain a high percentage of cocoa to yield any health benefits. Current evidence points to dark chocolate as a preferable choice for potential health benefits.

While chocolate may contain health benefits it definitely contains calories so using it to promote health is not the right idea. Enjoying some dark chocolate and potentially reaping health benefits is the best way to look at inclusion of chocolate in your eating plan. If chocolate is a part of your routine make sure you choose dark chocolate. Choose small pieces to help control quantity and make sure you enjoy your chocolate as a part of a healthful eating plan.

Tips for the Week
· Choose dark chocolate either plain or with nuts or fruit
· Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables for their phytochemical content
· Keep physical activity in your daily routine to offset the chocolate calories

Monday, March 2, 2009

Fat Facts

If you are like most consumers you know that Trans fats are not a healthful choice but likely you don’t know why that is true or that saturated fats are just as bad.

In order to understand the facts on fats it is best to start at the beginning. Fat is one of the nutrients we need for health and while we refer to fat the real reference is to fats. Fats are a group of compounds made up of fatty acids and glycerol. The fatty acids are the base units of fat and it is there chemical structure that determines if a fat is saturated or unsaturated.

Saturated fats are a type of fatty acid and they are found in animal foods like meat, poultry, whole milk dairy foods and from plant fats including coconut, palm and palm kernel oil. Saturated fats cause the liver to make more of the bad cholesterol, thus increasing the risk for heart disease. In order to reduce heart disease risk it is advised that saturated fats make up less than ten percent of the days calories.

Unsaturated fats are divided into two types; monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats, which are found in canola and olive oils, help reduce the bad cholesterol and can boost the good cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats lower both the good and bad cholesterol and are found in corn, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils.

Trans fats exist naturally in animal foods but are also made when oils are hardened during the process of hydrogenation. Trans fats increase bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol so they are a contributor to heart disease risk. Current dietary guidelines recommend keeping Trans fat intake as low as possible.

Keeping fat intake in a healthy range and from healthier sources requires label reading and portion control. When it comes to portion control a good guide is where you can see which foods are part of the Oils group and how much is healthful. Label reading requires not only searching for the healthier fats but also noting how much fat is in one serving. If the grams of fat don’t mean much to you look at the % of Daily Value which makes it easier to put into perspective how a serving will fit into a daily meal pattern.

Another helpful labeling tool is to look for terms that reference fat content such as the following.
· Fat Free – Less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving
· Low-fat – 3 grams or less of fat per serving
· Reduced or less fat – At least 25% less fat per standard serving size
· Light – 1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat per standard serving
· Trans Fat Free – Less than 0.5 grams per serving

Tips for the Week
· Limit animal sources of protein to 5 to 7 ounces, cooked weight, per day
· Choose olive, canola or soybean oils or margarines made from these oils
· Switch to fat free dairy foods
· Read food labels for fat content of processed foods.