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Think you know which foods are high in salt? Think again

Be on the lookout for high salt content in foods that may seem unlikely, like Jell-O pudding.

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Be on the lookout for high salt content in foods that may seem unlikely, like Jell-O pudding.

Hey, you know you have to watch your salt. We all have to shake it easy as we get older.

But a recent report from Consumer Reports finds sodium lurking in foods you might not think to check. In fact, lower-fat foods can be higher in sodium than their full-fat counterparts, says a report in the January 2009 edition.

"Our analysis found that lower-fat products might be higher in sodium. That's in part because when fat is taken out of full-fat foods, sodium is sometimes used to compensate for flavor,'' said Jamie Hirsch, associate health editor at Consumer Reports.

Most physicians recommend no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium daily. Excessive sodium intake is associated with heart attack and stroke.

A chat with Hirsch.

Q: Sounds like a no-win solution if sodium is added to so-called "healthy" foods.

A: Well, we did a two-part study and here is what we found.

In Part One, we checked labels for sodium content and then tested the foods for accuracy of the labels. We checked 37 products and all but one did have accurate sodium content on the labels. In fact, many had a lower content.

The one that didn't pass the test? Enrico's Traditional Pasta Sauce with 10 times the amount of sodium listed on the label.

In Part Two, we hit the grocery store and looked for foods that harbor sodium where consumers might not expect it to lurk. For example, a whole grain bagel. You wouldn't think of that as being high in salt, but it is.

Some other findings: McDonald's french fries' sodium count could be lower than many of the salad dressings the chain provides for its salads.

Q: Okay. So avoid prepared foods and only eat what you fix yourself because you know how much salt you are using, right?

A: I wouldn't make the conclusion that you shouldn't eat prepared foods. But be especially mindful with prepared and processed foods because manufacturers use sodium not just for flavor but also as a thickener, a preservative and to enhance flavor.

Q: Restaurant food?

A: You can easily consume two or three times your daily limit in a single restaurant entree. How do you avoid that? Ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side. That's one way. Eating fresh foods is one area where you can be safe.

Q: But even Jell-O?

A: Jell-O instant pudding has more sodium than potato chips per gram.

Q: What can consumers do?

A: Here are some basics:

• Shop for condiments with no salt added.

• Be a salt-conscious chef.

• Eat one serving. (A cup of Progresso 50 percent less sodium chicken noodle soup has 470 milligrams of sodium, about half the amount in the traditional. But if you consume the whole can, you'll get about 1,000 milligrams of sodium.)

• Avoid sodium heavyweights like soy sauce or limit them when possible. (Spam has 790 milligrams of sodium in 2 ounces.)

• Eat at home.

• Check your medications. Some drugs contain sodium. Ask your doctor.

Q: How can people find out more?

A: Log on to www.consumer reportshealth.org.

Think you know which foods are high in salt? Think again 01/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 9:55am]

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