Filed under: Nutrition
Sodium—found in table salt, kosher salt, and most sea salts—is an essential mineral your body uses to control blood pressure, help your muscles and nerves work properly, and balance fluids. However, it’s important to watch your sodium intake because it can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.
On average, Americans (ages 1 and older) consume more than 3,400 mg of sodium every day, mostly in the form of salt. But the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day—roughly the amount in one teaspoon of table salt. The Guidelines also recommend that those who are “salt-sensitive”—older adults, African Americans, and people with obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease—limit their sodium intake to about 1,500 mg per day.
Most Americans get more than 75% of their sodium from prepared and processed foods, including tomato sauce, soups, gravies, canned foods, bread, frozen pizzas, snack foods, and salad dressings. Sodium adds flavor and helps preserve prepared foods. It enhances food color and gives it a firmer texture too. Many restaurant foods also are high in sodium, but you can choose low-sodium items when they’re available.
What’s the best way to reduce your sodium intake?
- Eat whole foods such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish, unsalted nuts and seeds, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
- Check the Nutrition Facts panel on all packaged-food labels to compare sodium amounts in foods and drinks.
- Choose low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added products whenever possible.
Check with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian about whether you need to reduce your salt intake. To learn more about how to reduce sodium in your diet, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page.
Posted 17 April 2017
If you’re trying to understand the labels on food packaging or articles about nutrition, you might wonder about some of the terms and abbreviations you come across. The “alphabet soup” of acronyms can be confusing, but this article might help.
Nutrition experts at the Institute of Medicine—or IOM—of the National Academies of Sciences developed the Dietary Reference Intakes, or DRI, based on extensive statistics. The following terms and acronyms are from these guidelines.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of a nutrient is the daily amount that essentially all healthy people need, depending on life stage and gender. For example, the RDAs of some nutrients (such as vitamin C) for a 13-year-old boy are very different from those for a 25-year-old pregnant woman. It isn’t always the same as the Daily Value (DV) you see on food labels, but it’s usually close.
The Adequate Intake (AI) is the adequate daily amounts of a nutrient that healthy people of a particular life stage or gender need. AIs are given when there isn’t enough scientific evidence for a stronger recommendation, that is, an RDA. For example, IOM suggests an AI for one type of omega-3 fatty acids—alpha linoleic acid—of 1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams per day for women because scientists don’t know yet how much is optimal.
Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL) are the highest daily amounts of nutrients that you can consume without risk of toxicity. Many vitamins and minerals—even essential ones—can be toxic when consumed in excess. For example, because too much vitamin A can cause liver damage, a UL has been established for this essential nutrient.
You generally can meet all your daily nutrient intake goals (RDAs and AIs) by following a healthy diet that includes lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. So try to remember to get your RDAs and AIs every day, but don’t exceed the ULs!
Updated 10 April 2017
One of the most important things you can do to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is to become aware of “portion sizes.” That refers to the actual amount of food you eat at a single time. It isn’t necessarily the same as the “serving size” that you see on a food label, but especially if you’re trying to lose weight, you might want to compare. In any case, it isn’t always practical to use a measuring cup when you’re dishing up a plate of food or spreading peanut butter on your toast.
A more realistic way to gauge your portion sizes is to “eyeball” them—that is, to visually compare your food portions to a familiar frame of reference. The graphic below uses your hand as your guide to keep portion sizes in check. Of course, your hand might be larger or smaller than someone else’s, but your hand size generally equates to your body size and, as a result, your portion needs. What’s more, it’s one measuring device you’ll always have on hand.
Enjoy a flavorful diet, feel healthier, boost your performance, and lower health risks with the “African Heritage Diet.” The ancestors of African Americans brought wonderful food traditions to America, but many of these traditions have been lost over time. And health has suffered as ways of eating have changed.
African Americans struggle with high rates of obesity, putting them at a disproportionally higher risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. The good news is you can improve your health and performance by including the African Heritage Diet principles in your healthy eating plan—whether or not you’re African American. Keep reading to learn more about this diet. Read more...
Oatmeal is a comfort food that can be prepared in a variety of ways. It contains soluble fiber, which can help lower your blood cholesterol, keep you fuller longer, and boost your performance.
Choose steel-cut oats (regular or quick-cooking), which provide a nutty texture, or rolled oats, which are available in a variety of thicknesses: regular or old-fashioned (thickest), quick-cooking (thinner), and instant (thinnest). There really isn’t much of a difference in cooking times, so choose whichever texture you prefer. And limit instant varieties, which can pack large amounts of sodium and sugar. Read more...
One of the best ways to start losing weight or just improve your nutrition overall is to keep track of what you eat and drink every day. You probably have seen all the advice about eating well-balanced meals—from the amounts you should put on your plate at meals to the recommended amounts of essential nutrients you need every day. But how do you raise your awareness about what you eat and drink? And how can you keep track of whether you’re meeting your nutrition goals?
Try keeping a food diary. There are lots of online resources and apps to help you do this, but one worth exploring is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) SuperTracker. It actually offers several tools to help you track your diet, get nutritional information on more than 8,000 foods, manage your weight, track your physical activities, access a “virtual coach” to meet your goals, and more. You can create a personal profile to save your information and develop a personal plan, or you can use the “general plan” for one-time use.
If you’re looking for more detail about the nutritional content of what you eat and drink, check out the USDA Food Composition Databases. This website contains detailed nutrient information for more than 180,000 branded and generic food products. Need to get more of certain nutrients in your diet? More vitamin B-12? Or more protein? There’s a search engine to help you find what foods provide the ones you’re looking for. You can even specify what type food or which meals you’d like information about.
If you’re concerned about your partner’s weight but she or he doesn’t seem worried, there are things you can do to create a healthy eating environment at home. Pushing or pressuring your loved one won’t work and might make things worse.
Instead, consider where your partner is in the “Stages of Change.” These are the stages one goes through on his or her journey to making a behavior change. Keep in mind that he or she has to be the one to initiate the change. Read more...
Not all birth defects can be prevented, but a pregnant woman can increase her chances of having a healthy baby by eating well and avoiding infections that could impact her health and her baby’s health. You can lower your risk by following these practices:
Maintain good hygiene by washing your hands often. Be especially diligent when preparing food and before eating. Wash your hands after handling any raw foods, but especially meat, eggs, and produce.
Food choices are critical. Make sure to get 400 mcg of folic acid daily by either taking a supplement or eating a fortified breakfast cereal. (Ideally, all women should be ingesting this amount.) Be sure to avoid raw fish, raw milk and cheeses, and raw sprouts. If you have kids, take care not to share their food or drinks. Avoid putting your child’s pacifier in your mouth because many children have the cytomegalovirus, which is transmitted through body fluids such as saliva. Be sure to stay well hydrated, preferably with water, as it can help fight off infections.
It’s also important to see a healthcare provider early on and throughout your pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy includes controlling your weight by eating healthfully and being active. To learn more about National Birth Defects Prevention Month, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page. And for more nutrition information for maintaining a healthy pregnancy, visit HPRC’s FAQs about nutrition during pregnancy.
Some dietary supplements marketed for weight loss contain “raspberry ketone.” This ingredient is one of several naturally occurring chemicals found in red raspberries that contribute to their aroma; it also occurs in other fruits such as cranberries and blackberries. Raspberry ketone is used in some foods as a flavoring agent and in other products such as cosmetics. Because the amount of raspberry ketone found naturally is so low, it is produced synthetically in a laboratory for use in commercial products.
The limited number of studies done on cells, mice, rats, and other small animals indicate that raspberry ketone might improve fat metabolism. However, the same effect has yet to be established in humans, and currently there is insufficient scientific evidence that supplemental raspberry ketone is effective for weight loss.
Be prepared so you can make smart choices the next time a snack attack hits. Most people have a “snack drawer”—whether it’s in their office desk, gym locker, backpack, or car. Snacking can be an important part of your meal plan, preventing late-afternoon vending machine runs or overeating at mealtime. Snacks also can provide crucial nutrients before workouts or missions.
A healthy snack provides 100–300 calories, depending on your weight and activity level. Try to stock your snack drawer with a variety of nutrient-rich snacks.
- Choose lean proteins. Select water-packed tuna in single-serve pouches or nut butters. Or choose walnuts, almonds, or pistachios. If you have an office fridge, stock it with boiled eggs (up to one week) or single-serving cups of hummus, cottage cheese, or Greek yogurt.
- Pick healthy carbs. Options include instant oatmeal or grits, whole-grain crackers, air-popped popcorn, and dried fruit.
- Enjoy fresh fruits and veggies. Stock up on cut-up celery or cucumbers, baby carrots, and apples.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water (flavored with slices of lemon or cucumber), herbal tea, milk, soy milk, or almond milk. Or eat juicy fruits such as watermelon, oranges, and kiwis.
Follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendations on consuming foods and drinks too. And be mindful of portion sizes. Make sure to visit the MedlinePlus page to learn more about healthy snacking.