Tag Archives: Sodium Confusion

Hi again, Sodium!

Yes, it’s been a while since my last post but I’m still here, I promise! Here’s a novel to explain where I’ve been during the last 10 days:

The thing is, “cutting back on my sodium” gets really frustrating when I go off the deep end and EVERYTHING starts seeming like a “bad sodium choice” because it has sodium in it. Any sodium at all.  Let’s just say it culminated in a sad incident at Whole Foods wherein I was already very hungry, tired, and stressed when I walked up to the prepared foods section and sheepishly inquired about the sodium content of their offerings. The nice man behind the counter ever so gently informed me that gee, he really wished there was something for me, but everything is seasoned with salt and pepper so he can’t be sure if anything is ‘low sodium’ and so he’s very sorry, but Does Not Have Anything For Me. Continue reading


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”!!

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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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.

Know Before You Go: Outback Steakhouse

One of the toughest parts about watching sodium intake is that it’s not always intuitive. If I’m watching saturated fat, I know not to order a juicy steak or anything smothered in cheese, because animal products like steak and cheeses are high in saturated fat. Sodium is much more elusive. Do you know how much sodium is in a steak or in cheddar cheese? I don’t! And what if the chef salts the steak? How much does that add?

I had my first low sodium attempt at a restaurant yesterday. It was my grandmother-in-law’s 85th Birthday celebration at the Outback Steakhouse:

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