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Halt the Salt

There has been a lot of talk about salt recently. Is it really that bad for you? How can we possibly reduce salt with so many sources in our diet? Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released findings that show 9 in 10 children ages 6-18 years are consuming too much sodium. On average, the estimated sodium intake of U.S. school-aged children is about 3,300 mg per day. High school-aged youth consume more than younger children, nearly 3,700 mg per day. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a daily intake of 2,300 mg or less for healthy individuals.

Sodium intake can affect blood pressure. One in six children has elevated blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for two leading causes of death for American adults—heart disease and stroke.

The sodium that children eat comes from common processed and restaurant foods before salt is added at the table. Children eat sodium throughout the day—from store, restaurant, and school foods. About 43 percent of sodium that children eat comes from just 10 common types of food: pizza; yeast bread/rolls/bun; cold cuts/cured meats; savory snacks, such as chips; sandwiches, including cheeseburgers; cheese; chicken patties/nuggets/tenders; pasta mixed dishes, such as spaghetti with sauce; Mexican mixed dishes, such as burritos or tacos; and soups.

Results support the need for sodium reduction across multiple foods, venues, and eating occasions and support the efforts of set phased targets to reduce the sodium content of U.S. commercially processed foods as well as school meals and snacks.

With the start of the new school year come new nutrition standards, both at school meal times and throughout the school building in vending machines, snack bars, and school stores. One of the new pieces of the USDA school meals requirements is menus with lower sodium limits.

So, how are schools doing with this new sodium challenge?

Robert Lewis from El Monte, CA has been working ahead of the requirements for years.

“Our sodium level is already low because we’re serving fresh fruits and vegetables. We make a lot of our own products here like we bake our own submarine sandwich bread, so that really helps us too. We were already meeting the federal sodium requirements two years ago because of the Alliance.”

Allison Slade from Namaste Charter School in Chicago considers health a core tenant of her school culture. Sodium reduction is just part of the equation.

“A couple of years ago, we switched from canned products. The two big things for sodium are canned products or processed foods. We don’t add a lot of sodium to the foods that we cook. So the first thing is the canned issue – the only thing we use that are in cans are beans. Every other fruit/vegetable is fresh or frozen to minimize the sodium. We just have to be careful about the packaged products – things like pretzels.”

Your school can make similar changes too! Carol Chong, our National Nutrition Advisor, offers these tips to help school cafeterias reduce sodium while keeping—and often enhancing—flavor:

  • Increase the use of spices and fresh herbs. These ingredients can give regular menu items a new kick, while reducing sodium. Fresh herbs grown in your own school garden are a bonus!
  • Decrease and/or eliminate the added salt in your recipes. If you are using pre-cooked proteins or regular canned vegetables in your recipe, they may already have salt added for flavor. Some vegetables actually need salt in the canning process, so read the nutrition facts labels carefully to avoid adding unnecessary salt.
  • If you must add salt, add it at the end of the cooking time. The flavor will be stronger so less is more.
  • Be proactive when working with your food vendors. Be specific in your bid specifications and requests for lower sodium items ahead of time so products can be sourced and tested with students.
  • Integrate ethnic dishes into your menu, which often provides the opportunity for new ingredients and flavors to be introduced.
  • Test out new dishes and flavors with students … they may surprise you!

Let us know how you are reducing your salt intake at school, work, and home using the hashtag #HaltTheSalt

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