Pathways to Wellness

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Salt shake-up

Sodium is an essential nutrient that is found in table salt and many other foods.  We need a small amount of sodium to regulate fluids and blood pressure, and to keep muscles and nerves running smoothly.

However, most Canadians take in twice as much sodium as they need. This extra sodium is a leading cause of high blood pressure and contributes to stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, and other serious conditions.  High sodium intake is also associated with health problems in children.

Our taste buds get used to high levels of sodium, and foods that have low sodium can taste bland.  When children take in large amounts of sodium, they develop a preference for salty foods.  Going from foods high in sodium to eating foods that have lower levels of sodium means retraining your taste buds.

The majority of the sodium we eat – about 75 percent – comes from processed foods.  Many fast foods and pre-made convenience foods are very high in sodium.  The chart below gives sodium levels in 3 common fast foods as reported on the companies’ websites. 

Adequate daily sodium intake for adults

1500 mgs

Maximum upper limit for adults

2300 mgs

One serving of Tim Hortons chili

1320 mgs

One Big Mac at McDonalds

1020 mgs

Starter of oven roasted wings
at Boston Pizza

1660 mgs

Here are some strategies to reduce your family’s intake of sodium.

  • Buy processed and fast foods, such as pizzas, cold cuts, prepared sauces, hotdogs, and “ready to serve” foods less often.
  • Prepare meals from scratch whenever you can. Save eating out for special occasions.
  • Buy sodium reduced products (like soups or sauces).  Combine a reduced sodium version of a favorite product (e.g., vegetable soup) with a regular version in proportions that gradually favour the reduced sodium version.  As time goes on, you won’t miss the salt.
  • When you go to a fast food outlet, ask for information on sodium levels.  Compare different meals and consider ordering meals with the lowest sodium.
  • Use the information given on the Nutrition Facts tables on all food products for sale in Canada to choose products which are lower in sodium.

Nutritions Facts Table image

  • A good rule of thumb is:
    • Choose foods with less than 5% daily sodium value most often
    • Choose foods with between 5 and 15% daily sodium sometimes
    • Choose foods with more than 15% daily sodium least often.

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