The problem with “Low Sodium”

The problem with “Low Sodium” is the underlying problem of serving size. On the Nutrition Facts Panel, the “Serving Size” is based on an FDA Chart called “Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed Per Eating Occasion: General Food Supply” [I know this beacuse I have a printed copy at my desk that I refer to regularly when developing nutritional information for my company’s products.] The serving size in grams is defined for each type of food, and the comapny who makes the food is responsible for supplying a “household measurement” that is easier to understand for the consumer. This could be in cups, tablespoons, number of pieces, etc.(it would vary, depending on the density of the product)

This chart can be woefully unrealistic in defining how much is eaten “per eating occasion,” and this can skew perceptions on what you are actually putting in your body when you eat an entire can of soup (as I am doing right now at my desk at work)  that contains “about 2” one-cup servings. Last I checked, it is not customary to eat a half-can of soup during one “eating occasion.”

But I digress. At Trader Joe’s yesterday evening, I picked up one of their “Low Sodium” product guides, which lists the things they carry that are 140mg or less of sodium per serving. This is what the FDA defines as “Low Sodium.” I was shocked and excited to see “Spanikopita” listed under the “Miscellaneous” category. I darted straight to the frozen section and grabbed a box of those delicious phyllo dough triangles and read the nutrition facts. Sure enough it was 120mg of sodium, which qualifies it as a “Low Sodium” option……. Serving size: 1 piece. HA! How is that a low sodium choice? How will it help my daily intake of sodium to take two teeny bites and put 120mg of sodium in my body? That is a sodium-dense food, in my book.

I’ve linked to this chart before, but this time note how “Low Sodium” is defined clearly as 140 mg or less per serving (RACC) and “Very Low Sodium” is less than 35 mg per serving. This would make sense if the serving sizes on packages were realistic, but they are obviously not!

I would have probably wanted to eat 3 or 4 pf those little spanakopita guys. That would have totaled up at 360-480mg of sodium – a quarter of my entire day’s allotment – all in an appetizer that would not even fill me up for a full meal. So explain that one to me, FDA…

And THAT is the problem with “Low Sodium”!!

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“Hint of Salt” Triscuits

The other day at the grocery store, this box caught my eye as I was speeding through the snack aisle:

hello, convenient snack that might be good for me!

In my last post, I started to talk about how you can’t always trust what the front of the package says when it comes to label claims. So I was definitely a little wary when I picked up this box. I was happy to see it was a shocking 0mg of sodium per serving!!! I merrily tossed it into my cart and went on with the rest of my shopping.

Ha. whoops. By the time I was enjoying them for lunch today [OK, there was nothing else easy to bring. I know triscuits is not a complete meal, but give me a break, I’m a busy gal!] I noticed some tiny sparkling crystals adorning the tufts of toasted what. I immediately looked up the nutrition info again and saw the sodium content is actually 50mg of sodium, something my frazzled grocery-shopping brain failed to recognize.

That’s still not a bad sodium deal for a easy and convenient snack item, especially since I would argue that these Triscuits are actually tastier than their full-salt counterparts. My hypothesis is that they toast them just a bit more to enhance the flavor that is lacking from the low salt. It ends up being delectable.

Moral of the story: not only can you not always trust food labels, but you can’t always trust your frazzled mind to read food labels properly!

Getting Smart about Food Labels

Say you’re mozying through the grocery store past the prepackaged deli meats, and you see a package labeled “Lower Sodium.” Is that a wise option for someone trying to limit sodium intake? The label would have you think so, but in reality, “lower sodium” sometimes translates to “way too much sodium for you, Tara!”

deli counter version of the prepackaged stuff

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Orange Banana Muffins

One of the first recipes I made from the No-Salt Lowest-Sodium Cookbook was these Orange Banana Muffins. I was intrigued by the fact that I had to go out and buy a different kind of baking powder, called Featherweight. This stuff has zero sodium, while regular baking powder has close to 500mg per teaspoon!

Typical muffin recipes often combine 1 tsp of baking powder  for 500mg sodium with 1 tsp baking soda (SODIUM bicarbonate) at a whopping 1260mg sodium per teaspoon! If that ‘typical’ recipe makes 12 muffins, you’re only getting about 150mg sodium per muffin, but first of all, if I bake muffins on a Sunday, I’m gonna eat more than one. Second of all, I’m exploring the world of low-sodium, so why not go all the way?

Sideways Orange Banana Muffins

These Orange Banana muffins have less than 1mg sodium per muffin. The texture was definitely more dense, and the muffin tops were not so pretty and rounded, but the flavor was not bad at all. I really enjoyed throwing a whole orange, peel and all, into my food processor, and the flavor delivered by all that zest and peel was phenomenal!

Would I make these again? Probably not. But still fun to try!!

The No-Salt, Lowest-Sodium, Biggest-Commitment Cookbook

A few weeks ago, I invested in a new cookbook called The No-Salt, Lowest-Sodium Cookbook by Donald A. Gazzaniga. I sort of saw this as my inaugural step towards a low-sodium life. Unfortunately, upon flipping through the pages, I became quickly overwhelmed at how low in sodium these recipes actually are. I mean, we are talking sodium measurements down to the thousandth of a milligram. Seriously?? If I level off my measuring cup differently than he did, that could affect the numbers!! I was thinking, “I have to be this sensitive? I don’t want to become obsessed! But if this guy is, maybe I’m supposed to?!” He wrote this cookbook because his heart was failing and he drastically cut sodium to the point that he was taken off the heart transplant list. Um, I just have a weird ear disease, do I need to be as diligent as he is?

wrapping my head around low-sodium

It took me a while to process all of that, but I eventually got used to the idea that just because I bought that cookbook does not mean I need to go hard core cold turkey on sodium. I’m shooting for less than 2,000mg a day, not less than 500mg! (I just messaged my doctor, though, to see if he thinks “the lower the better”… hi Dr. Shinners if you are reading this!)

Remember, this is a blog about transitioning to a low-sodium lifestyle, not jumping in all at once!

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, we can move on to the recipes I’ve tried so far from this wonderful book…. coming up next is Orange Banana Muffins! (only 0.96787439864mg* sodium per muffin!!)

*I’m being facetious, in case you could not tell.

Test your Sodium Smarts!

I’ve been doing some more low-sodium blog searching (still have not found the Low Sodium Girl) and I came across a link to this fun quiz on the Consumer Reports website. I’ll have you know, dear dedicated blog readers (anybody? anybody out there? Bueller?) that you are in GOOD HANDS reading this here blog for low sodium advice*, because I got eleven out of twelve answers correct. The only comparison I got wrong was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups vs. Black Licorice, and let’s face it, I never eat either of those anyway. OK, maybe I’ll have a Peanut Butter cup or two (or three) around Halloween, but I’d never buy them otherwise. And black licorice? eaauggh. ’nuff said.

So I invite you to click on through to see how Sodium-Savvy you are. I’d love to hear what your score is in the comments on this post! (Mostly so I can feel even better about my awesome 11 out of 12. I’d like to see you beat that!)

…and if clicking the photo above does not work, try this: http://www.consumerreports.org/health/healthy-living/diet-nutrition/diets-dieting/sodium-in-food/sodium-quiz/sodium-quiz.htm

*Um, that reminds me, I need to make a Disclaimer page explaining that I’m not qualified to give anybody advice on anything. Not even whether that pair of pants makes your butt look big. So if you listen to me and your life goes awry, it’s totally not my fault.

Thank Goodness

2 delectable tablespoons of Hazelnutty Chocolatey Heaven: 15mg of Sodium. Phew!!
Now if only it weren’t 200 calories…

The Greatest Invention Ever In The Universe

Thank you, that was all.