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Project Lean: Too Much Sodium In Some Tuna Brands

National Nutrition Month is a good time to get salt savvy, and this week Jonna Kitchen, one of our public health nutritionists, will help that happen with the following information:

Nearly all Americans consume far more sodium than they need. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults and children limit their daily sodium to 2,300 milligrams. However, the average American eats about 4,000 mg of sodium each day.

One teaspoon of table salt contains approximately 2,300 milligrams of sodium, so it is easy to see how quickly the amount of salt we eat can get out of control. If you think it's more important to follow a low-fat or low-carbohydrate diet than a low-salt diet, think again.

Why does it matter? Ninety percent of adults age 50 or older will probably develop hypertension or high blood pressure, primarily because more Americans are obese or overweight now than ever before. Carrying extra weight often results in higher blood pressure, and higher blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke - the two leading causes of death in California.

Remember when your doctor told you to cut back on using the salt shaker? That’s important, but only 10 percent of our daily salt comes from the salt shaker. Nearly 75 percent of the sodium in our foods comes from processed foods. Since salt is a natural food preservative, it is common in many processed foods, including canned goods.

Many Americans are struggling financially, and eating healthfully on a slimmer budget has become a big challenge. It is especially difficult when highly salted, processed foods are sometimes cheaper than healthier options.

The sodium content of processed foods can vary greatly. Take tuna, for instance. One can of Bumble Bee solid white albacore tuna contains 450 mg of sodium, while Crown Prince tuna contains only 190 mg of sodium. Reading labels for sodium content and comparing brands can make a big difference. They can help you monitor the amounts of sodium in your family’s foods.

In addition, look for the low- or no-salt versions of foods. As a result of recent legislation, we'll also soon be able to monitor the amount of sodium we get from foods in many quick-serve restaurants.

Recent research at the University of California, Davis found that all forms of fruits and vegetables -canned, fresh cooked and frozen- are nutritionally similar and contribute to a healthful diet. In some cases, canned fruits and vegetables actually give us more nutrient benefits than their fresh cooked or frozen counterparts.

Since canned foods tend to be less expensive and are already cooked, stocking your pantry with a variety of canned fruits, vegetables and beans is an easy way to decrease food costs and keep meal preparation and cooking times short. If you use regular canned vegetables or beans, rinse them before cooking and you can frequently reduce the salt content by half. To limit sodium intake to the 2,300 mg that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest, aim for consuming no more that 600 to 700 mg of sodium per meal and 100 mg per snack.