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Sodium Swap Challenge aims to help Americans cut down on salt

The average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, which is more than twice the recommended daily intake. (Thinkstock)

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – For Americans who crave salty snacks, one group has a plan to help people cut back.

The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association on Monday starts a three-week Sodium Swap Challenge to help people train their taste buds to not want as many salty foods.

The association says the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of salt a day, but some doctors say it is closer to 3,700 milligrams. The recommended level is 1,500 milligrams.

Dr. Warren Levy, president and chief medical officer of Virginia Heart in Fairfax, Va., says eating twice the recommended amount of salt can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

He says the key is to cut the salt “hidden” in food.

“Two-thirds of the sodium in our diet comes from processed foods, not from the salt that we add to our foods to improve its taste,” he says.

Some of the worst offenders include frozen meals, canned soups and fast food.

Levy says if people eat less processed foods, they will significantly decrease their sodium intake.

Here’s how the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association says people can cut 1,900 milligrams of sodium out of their diets.

Sodium Swap Challenge:

Week 1:

Start by tackling your consumption of breads and rolls as well as cold cuts and cured meats. For example, one piece of bread can have as much as 230 milligrams of sodium while a serving of turkey cold cuts could contain as much as 1,050 milligrams of sodium. When your recommended daily intake is kept to 1,500 milligrams or less, it’s amazing how fast it all adds up. Check your labels on these items, look for lower sodium items, and track your sodium consumption each day and log how much you’ve shaved out of your diet. Portion control does make a difference. Foods eaten several times a day add up to a lot of sodium even though each serving is not high.

Week 2:

Keep that momentum going! This week’s foods include pizza and poultry. If you’re going to eat pizza, try to aim for one with less cheese and meats or lower sodium versions of these items or try something different and add veggies instead. When cooking for your family this week use fresh, skinless poultry that is not enhanced with sodium solution rather than fried or processed. Keep your eyes on the 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day and, again, log your results.

Week 3:

As you round out your challenge and embark on the last week of your challenge, your focus includes soups and sandwiches. The two together typically make a tasty lunch or dinner duo, but one cup of chicken noodle or tomato soup may have up to 940 milligrams — it varies by brand — and, after you add all of your meats, cheeses and condiments to your sandwich, you can easily surpass 1,500 milligrams in one day. This week, when choosing a soup, check the label and try lower sodium varieties of your favorites and make your sandwiches with lower sodium meats and cheeses and try to eliminate piling on your condiments. Be sure to track your sodium and try to keep your daily consumption to less than 1,500 milligrams.

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